Why Some Hazardous Materials Don't Fly

Posted on 9/28/2021 by Roseanne Bottone and Roger Marks

Air transportation is a modern marvel. It’s the fastest way to move goods, there are no traffic jams to worry about, and it’s exceedingly safe for both people and packages. One of the ways that it remains so safe is through strict requirements for shipping hazardous materials by aircraft.

Many hazardous materials are subject to stricter rules when shipped by air than by other modes of transportation. Some are prohibited by air unless special permission is granted. Others can go by cargo aircraft but not passenger aircraft, and still others are so dangerous that they may never be shipped by air.

Why Are Hazmat Air Rules More Stringent?

The consequences of a hazardous materials incident aboard an aircraft can be devastating. These incidents have the potential to cause unthinkable loss of life and extensive property damage. For this reason, some of the 3,000-plus hazardous materials recognized by US DOT are regulated more stringently when shipped by air. 

Some materials have an anesthetic or noxious property that could cause extreme annoyance or discomfort to the flight crew and prevent correct job performance. Non-pressurized self-defense spray (NA 3334) is regulated as a hazardous material in air transportation, for example, but not when shipped by ground.

An airplane’s instrumentation is particularly sensitive to extreme heat from fire and magnetism. Some packages that pose an acute fire risk—like strike anywhere matches (UN 1331)—are prohibited in air transport, as are some packages with strong magnetic fields (see 49 CFR 173.21(d)). 

The emergency response options available aboard an aircraft make transporting dangerous goods by air a unique logistics challenge as well. Airplanes have closed air systems,, meaning (among other things) that you can’t crack a window and air-out the cabin at 30,000 feet. An airplane can’t pull over to investigate a release; its crew can’t toss troublesome packages out the back of the aircraft.

Lithium Battery Air Shipments

Some hazardous materials are allowed on aircraft but are subject to more stringent requirements when shipped by air than when shipped by ground or vessel. That includes one of the most commonly shipped hazardous materials today—lithium batteries.

To offer lithium batteries by air, shippers must abide by stricter quantity limits, a maximum state-of-charge, and narrower exceptions than the ones used for ground shipments.
Learn more about the rules for shipping lithium batteries by all modes of transportation in compliance with 49 CFR, ICAO/IATA, and IMDG Code standards in the Shipping Lithium Batteries Online Course.

The crucial lesson for all of these scenarios is that a shipper who prepares hazmat for ground transportation cannot assume that the same shipment is suitable for air transport.

IATA DGR Training to Keep Air Shipments Flying

Lion’s Hazmat Air Shipper Certification training guides air shippers through each step of preparing dangerous goods (i.e., hazmat) shipments—including the stricter marking, labeling, and shipping paper requirements in the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations.

Learn at your own pace with the on-demand online course or join an instructor for the live webinar on October 6 or October 21. 

Pre-requisite: Current DOT hazmat training.

Chicago! Last In-Person Hazmat Shipper Training of 2021 

Join Lion for the final in-person 49 CFR, IATA DGR, and IMDG Code training in Chicago on December 6–9. 

Tags: 2022 DGR, hazmat air shipping, IATA 1.5, IATA DGR, lithium batteries

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In-flight hazmat incidents can be disastrous. This guide gives 5 tips for first-time air shippers to consider before offering dangerous goods for transportation on passenger or cargo aircraft.

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