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Write about IATA – especially airine regulations – and you open a can of worms. Many, in fact. And quite complicated ones too. (Breathe a sigh of relief – they go way beyond The Loadstar’s remit.)

Yesterday’s blog looked at the new rules for time and temperature-sensitive labels, coming out on July 1. Also included in these latest Perishable Cargo Regulations is a point about data loggers, the monitoring devices such as RFID, which can note and log the temperature shipments reach and so on. An essential part of protecting critical cargo, such as pharmaceuticals. But which also, of course, contain lithium batteries.

According to a study by US and Canadian aviation regulators, lithium battery fires are likely to destroy one US-registered aircraft every two years. Quite a significant amount – especially if you are a pilot.

So it would seem sensible to alert perishable shippers which use data loggers about the risks and the regulations regarding lithium batteries, as they are unlikely to be experts in the field of dangerous goods. And, of course, the onus is on shippers to ensure they meet the regulations.

Interestingly at least one CAA suggests that there should be an active act of consent between the carrier and the forwarder – meaning the forwarder should notify the airline about the presence of a data logger in a shipment, and the operator agree to transport it. Additionally, the operator may need to notify the captain of the flight.

However, the type and size of battery of the average data logger means that it doesn’t need to be flagged on the MAWB, and no label is required.

(Of course, when it comes to the reverse logistics of these data loggers, they are often, according to one shipper source, just popped in the post. Airmail. Which kind of makes all these regulations fairly defunct anyway.)

The point, really, is that these regulations are hugely complex – and can differ from country to country. And, frankly, all of this must be quite a turn-off for shippers and forwarders, although clearly the airlines need to be concerned.

While it appears that not many shippers who specialise in perishables have been notified about – or understand – the regulations, what perhaps is more interesting is whether the forwarders do.

So, in the interests of safety (and a good story) The Loadstar spent the morning contacting medium-sized and smaller forwarders. The result? A resounding silence.

It’s not the most precise poll, admittedly. But it also goes to show that no one is desperate to market their in-depth knowledge of regulations. Which leads you to wonder whether there is much in-depth knowledge. And many of those immersed (and you really do need to be immersed) in dangerous goods regulations say that lots of forwarders really don’t have the knowledge, but that shippers – understandably – turn to them for advice.

Something’s not working. Even ignoring what many say are hugely political and partisan interferences going on within IATA’s task forces, once those texts are finalised, there is clearly a problem with communication.

Shippers don’t know, forwarders don’t know. The only ones who do understand the regulations – because they made them – are the airlines. (And if you go to any internet forums on these kind of regulations, you realise that not even all the experts are entirely clear.) And it’s the airlines that stand to lose if goods are poorly or dangerously shipped. Yet the onus of compliance seems to be on the shippers – which IATA admits it finds hard to communicate with – and in some cases the forwarders.

One source familiar with all this says: “IATA tends to be reactive, but not active. It fails to bring the stakeholders together. It’s always the same old guys talking and agreeing about what’s going to happen.”

Experts who contacted The Loadstar on this issue do agree on some things: IATA’s task forces should not be taken over by factional (either political or commercial) interests; that IATA’s communication needs to be far better across all the stakeholders in the chain, and that IATA itself should open the debate, and stop trying too hard to control it.

But it must also be said that this is an issue which affects all parts of the supply chain, and it is not just IATA that needs to be spreading the word.

Comment on this article

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  • Jens-Thomas Rueckert

    May 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Alex, congrats. A solid summary of the may challenges the average shipper faces when confronted with the usual three experts with nine opinions. I always enjoy reading your pieces !

  • Kenta

    May 31, 2012 at 8:03 am

    I thought ICAO makes the DG regulations.