General Philosophy in regards to Air Transport of dangerous goods (Technical article by David Narrillos)

Dangerous goods can be transported safely by air if certain principles are strictly followed. The IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations are an easy to use manual based on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air Transport. In addition, IATA’s manual includes further operational requirements that give operators a coordinated system for accepting and transporting hazardous materials safely and efficiently.

The Regulations include a detailed list of individual items and substances and specifies the United Nations classification for each of those items or substances and whether they are suitable for carriage. Since it is hard for any listing to encompass all forms of article that may be transported, the list has a large number of generic or «not elsewhere specified» entries to help classify items and substances not listed by name.


Some dangerous goods have been identified as being too unsafe for transport by air under any circumstances; others are prohibited in normal circumstances but may be transported with the specific approval of the States concerned; some are restricted to transport by cargo aircraft only, but most may be safely transported on passenger aircraft as well, as long as certain specific requirements are fulfilled.


Packing is an essential component in the safe transport of dangerous goods by air. The IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations contain packing instructions for all goods that can be accepted for air transport which include a range of options for inner, outer, and single packaging. The instructions normally require the use of packing tested according to United Nations specifications. However, packing of this kind is not required when dangerous goods are shipped in limited quantities. In the regulations, instructions for packing for limited quantities are marked with the letter «Y». The regulations strictly limit the quantities of hazardous materials permitted in such packaging in order to minimize risk in the event of an incident.


Training is another essential component of keeping the regulatory system safe. Adequate training of everyone involved in preparing and transporting dangerous goods is necessary to enable them to do their jobs properly. Depending on the job, training may simply be basic or may have to delve deeper into the intricacies of the regulations. It is important to stress that dangerous goods are unlikely to cause problems if they are prepared and handled in accordance with the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations.


When the forwarder correctly issues a correct dangerous goods declaration, it ensures that everyone involved in the transport chain will know what they are transporting, how to load and handle the goods properly, and what to do if an incident or accident occurs, either in flight or on the ground. The pilot in command of an aircraft should know what is being carried on board the aircraft so that any emergency can be handled properly. Wherever possible, that information should be conveyed to the air traffic services to help in being able to respond to any incident or accident involving an aircraft that may occur. Information regarding «hidden dangerous goods» should also be made available to passengers, to help them realize what they cannot carry on their persons or in their cabin or checked baggage, including items that are not readily regarded as dangerous.


Finally, all accidents attributable to hazardous materials should be reported, so that the relevant authorities can determine the cause and take the necessary measures. From this it follows that if the investigation results demonstrate that changes to the regulations are needed, suitable regulatory measures should be implemented without delay.