Both safety (persons) and security (aircraft), are together one of the most important aspects for an airline’s area of operations, the airline here being Swiftair. This being the case, how do hazardous materials fit in?
We have to ensure that hazardous materials are carried safely on board aircraft, and a range of factors needs to be taken into consideration for that purpose, including both safety and security concerns.
Today nearly 4,000 materials are internationally classified as dangerous, categorized into nine classes, and many of these materials also pose both a primary hazard and secondary hazards.
Safe handling of all goods is a fundamental concern in air transport, as is strict compliance with regulations when carriage of dangerous goods is involved. This enables substances considered potentially hazardous to be shipped safely.
As a specialist in dangerous goods, what demands and needs do you face in your job?
Our mission is to ensure that all the goods that we transport comply with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s international regulations. They also have to comply with the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s standards, which we, as an IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) company, also have to follow to avoid incidents of any kind during transport.
This concept is applied from the reception of the goods by the operator to their final delivery, including loading onto and unloading from the aircraft, filling out the corresponding documents, etc. This is all possible thanks to the training program followed by the different departments and the persons involved in transport.
When flying a plane, what aspects need to be considered when carrying hazardous materials?
Multiple factors need to be taken into account: classification of the goods by their proper shipping name, UN or ID number; documentation, type of packing, markings and labelling; the emergency action code in the event of a potential in-flight incident, and so on.
Depending on the type of material, a risk analysis may have to be performed before it can be accepted, to ascertain the viability of transport.
Basically, any material considered or classified as dangerous needs to comply with the various regulations in full to be able to ensure safe transport. It is therefore essential for everyone involved to have completed the requisite training, from the operator’s or carrier’s personnel (agents, dispatchers, workers, supervisors, crews, etc.) to the freight forwarder’s personnel.
What day-to-day problems do you encounter when transporting these kind of goods?
We commonly find goods from a forwarder, that has not had suitable training or does not have the appropriate knowledge and delivers dangerous goods, that are not in compliance with regulatory standards. Another problem is goods that have not been declared to be dangerous, that is, hazardous materials that have not been reported to the operator but have been included in a shipment of normal cargo.
To counter this problem, it is essential for all freight that is to be loaded onto an aircraft to be put through suitable security measures (x-rays or other available means). This enables potential cargo that is undeclared or has been concealed to be detected and held back.
Yet another problem faced today is fakes, or counterfeits, particularly in the transport of lithium ion/metal batteries. In the past ten years, these have caused a series of incidents and even accidents because of the volume of products containing them worldwide.
All this is addressed in the Regulation, and operators and regulators are making great efforts to prevent continued situations like this.
One of the key components in transporting materials of this kind is in-flight monitoring. What monitoring systems are there?
It depends on the type of goods. For instance, for radioactive materials, minimum separation distances need to be considered.
For dry ice, sublimation, the chemical process in which a substance changes from the solid phase to the gaseous phase, needs to be considered, since crew members could be incapacitated if established limits are exceeded.
All goods transported by air undergo pressure differentials, something that does not happen with other means of transport, and this entails a further constraint compared to carriage by road, rail, or sea.
As products become safer, does this mean limitations will be reduced?
Yes. One example is the pharmaceutical industry, which has many products that require temperature control during transport, like vaccines. In these cases, close attention has to be paid to transfers from the cargo terminal to the aircraft, because any change in temperature on the platform could damage the goods.
The main challenge is the education and training of personnel.
Do you have any sort of training for these suppliers?
They are all given training. Training in the air transport industry is compulsory and really strict. We have a number of training activities, not only for hazardous materials, but also for human factors, security, etc. We also train suppliers who provide us with different types of services.
We are one of the few airlines approved by the Spanish authorities to give both, in-person and online, training on dangerous goods in all existing classes.
How many operations involving dangerous goods does Swiftair perform daily?
A great many. Swiftair operates a passenger fleet and a cargo fleet. Hazardous materials are carried by both fleets. For obvious reasons, the amount is more restricted on passenger flights than on cargo flights, but dangerous goods are carried on all flights.
The most intense period is December, with presents for the gift-giving on Christmas and the Three Kings. This past month of December, we performed around 3,600 operations. We have a fleet of nearly 60 aircraft.
What sets you apart from the competition? What makes you better?
Fortunately, we do not have much competition. There are few companies in the marketplace offering separate air cargo services, like Swiftair. Even so, we provide our customers with highly personalized service that includes considerable free consulting, we provide lots of advice. If a customer does not know whether it can ship one product or another, we furnish advice, and we explain the best way to ship the product, from choosing the packing to the freight documents.