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9 1/2 Hazmat Air Shipping Errors to Avoid

Posted on 9/24/2019 by Roseanne Bottone and Roger Marks

To safely ship hazardous materials by any mode of transport, attention to detail is crucial. This is especially true when preparing hazmat air shipments. From special marks and labels used only for air transport to extra requirements for shipping papers, the rules for shipping hazmat by air are more stringent than the ground regulations—for good reason. 

If every detail is not in order, a carrier may reject a hazmat shipment outright. If the package is accepted, it may be delayed later in transit due to confusion or suspicion. In the worst case scenario, a hazmat incident in the air can result in an emergency landing, destroyed cargo, and even massive loss of life as seen in the ValuJet disaster of 1996

A new edition of the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) takes effect on January 1, 2020, giving hazmat air shippers another batch of significant changes to be aware of. 

Below we cover 9 (and a half!) frequent errors to avoid–and details to keep in mind–when preparing hazmat air shipments. 

1. Spelling Counts 

What’s the difference between a nitrate and a nitrite? Nitrates have three oxygen molecules while nitrites have only two. They are different chemicals with different UN identification numbers. A seemingly minor spelling error can cause major problems with your hazmat shipment–especially in the event of an emergency, when responders need accurate information to make split-second decisions about how to best protect themselves. 

2. Subsidiary Hazards

Does your material have a subsidiary hazard indicated in column C of the IATA 4.2 List of dangerous goods? Does a special provision indicate the requirement to label for the subsidiary hazard? 

If so, remember to affix the subsidiary hazard label adjacent to the primary hazard label on the same surface of the package and indicate the subsidiary hazard on the Shippers Declaration in parenthesis immediately following the primary hazard.

3. Limited Quantity Marking 

The limited quantity marking for air has a “Y” in the middle (see IATA figure 7.1.A). 

Using the proper marking is just the beginning. In air transport, limited quantities do not enjoy the extensive relief from regulation that ground shipments are accustomed to. Packages must be marked with the Proper Shipping Name, UN ID number, a To and From address, and orientation arrows when necessary. In addition to the limited quantity label, the package must also display proper hazard labels.  

4. Label Placement 

If even the point of a hazmat label ever so slightly wraps around the edge of a box, or if labels overlap, your package can be rejected. Labels should be placed on-point as long as the package dimensions allow it. 

5. Use Current Marks and Labels 

Speaking of hazmat labels - are yours up to date? 2019 brought us a new lithium battery mark for excepted lithium batteries and a new miscellaneous Class 9 lithium battery label. 

If you've still got them in a drawer somewhere, get rid of your old supply of the all-yellow 5.2 organic peroxide labels. The current version sports a red top half and a new flame. Does your “cargo aircraft only” label say “danger”? Well then, you’re in danger of a costly rejection and civil penalty. If you’re unsure what your labels should look like, check out the label specifications in the latest edition of the IATA DGR, Section 7.3.

6. Not All Consumer Commodities Fly 

Even if something is packaged in a way that is suitable for, or intended for, retail sale to the public, it may not qualify as a consumer commodity by air. Special provision A112 (see IATA 4.4) specifies the few hazard classes, divisions, and packing groups that are eligible for this distinction.

7. Shipping Papers: Quantity Per Package 

Unlike DOT ground shipments that require total quantity of the hazardous material to be indicated on shipping papers, the IATA DGR requires shippers to indicate the quantity per package

When packages in a consignment of multiple packages differ from one another, the quantity must be indicated on the outside of each package. This also necessitates an additional entry on the Shippers Declaration as well. 

For example:

6 fibreboard boxes X 10 kg
3 fibreboard boxes X 8 kg

8. Orientation Arrows

This one may not be a frequent error, but it's important to mention nonetheless. Combination packages containing liquids require orientation arrows on two opposing sides of the package. Orientation arrows are not as bright and shiny as some hazardous materials labels, but they are crucial to prevent spills and ensure safe handling. 

9. Cargo Aircraft Label 

Do not use this label as a “directive” or a not-so-subtle request to have your shipment placed on a cargo aircraft. This label is intended for materials that may only be transported on cargo aircraft according to the IATA DGR regulations. If you’ve used a passenger and cargo aircraft packing instruction and are within quantity limits for passenger aircraft, then use of the label is illegal.


9 ½. Type of packaging

Cardboard is not fibreboard. Not just any box will do when shipping hazardous materials, and a package failure during air transport can have major consequences. This one counts as half on our list, because it may seem obvious to experienced hazmat pros. But make sure the package used is authorized for the material and strong enough to withstand the rigors of loading, unloading, and transportation. 

Live IATA DGR Training - October 10 

On October 10, join an expert Lion instructor for live training on the new 2020 IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) for hazmat air shippers. Learn the unique, additional requirements you must know to offer dangerous goods for transport on passenger or cargo aircraft, including updates to the regulations that take effect on January 1, 2020. 

Reserve a spot in the October 10 webinar here. 

The IATA DGR requires hazmat training for air shippers once every 24 months (IATA 1.5). 

Need a copy of the 61st Edition IATA DGR for 2020?
Save when you preorder your manual at Lion.com. Don't wait: Special preorder pricing ends Oct. 15!  

Tags: hazmat air shipping, hazmat shipping, hazmat training, IATA DGR, international

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