Lithium battery shippers: higher costs as airfreight rules change again
Once again, shippers of lithium batteries by air must prepare for changes to the regulations ...
It’s been a while since The Loadstar has touched on IATA. Apart from one or two management changes in the wider organisation that possibly are yet to be made – or rather, according to IATA employees, should be made – it seems to have cleaned up its act since Tony Tyler took over.
Over in cargo, things seem to be considerably better; except in one small corner, where murmurings of dissatisfaction are growing louder.
There were already rumblings of disquiet at the World Cargo Symposium in March, that all was not well in the Time and Temperature Task Force.
At the time, some members mentioned that the group seemed to be going beyond the scope of its abilities, and that its ambitions should be reigned back to something more achievable. But things at the temperature-control group have been heating up somewhat, while time has run out.
The departure of Kevin O’Donnell as Chair of the TTTF rang more alarm bells. And not everyone seems happy with the new appointments.
There are several issues here. The most pressing is the Time and Temperature Sensitive label, which members confirm has been contentious. The label will be mandatory from July 1, but it would seem that not everyone is ready. Mr O’ Donnell best describes the problems in an article he wrote in March. (Unfortunately as some parts of his piece are disputed – not those discussed here – The Loadstar prefers not to put in a link for now.) But in short, the label was approved and recommended in 2010. Few have adopted it, as many in the healthcare industry don’t know it exists.
The reasonable Andrea Gruber, the group’s secretary and manager cargo standards for IATA, admits that the label hasn’t been widely used so far. “The label touches the first stakeholders in the chain, the shipper, and it’s not always easy to get the information out,” she explains.
The IATA communication confirming the mandatory requirements was sent out just last week to the healthcare industry, according to a source, and to the press a day later. The label was originally designed to be used together with a written agreement between the involved parties. But from July, it is mandatory even without the agreement – and some of the terms were only decided in the last two weeks, making it even harder to ensure compliance at such late notice.
There are, perhaps, some structural problems here. First, that this regulation is embedded in other perishable cargo regulations, putting it firmly beyond the radar of the pharmaceutical industry. (IATA says this will be corrected.) But there is also a feeling that the voting mechanism for the group is skewed, again, away from the healthcare sector.
Members of the Live Animals and Perishables Board vote on proposed initiative approvals in the TTTF. But many of those members are specialists in live animal shipping, rather than healthcare and temperature-controlled shipping, and there is a danger that they listen to the loudest (or as one source put it, the most ‘self-serving’ voices), rather than fully understanding all the issues at stake.
Ms Gruber, however, argues that the LAPB is always part of the discussion, and should be knowledgeable about all aspects of it.
Meanwhile, Mr O’Donnell identifies yet another problem. “This [regulation] will only serve to encourage less conscientious shippers to slap a label on their packages and expect a level of service they didn’t pay for. It also can put these sensitive shipments at additional risk, as failure to comply may relegate the shipment to the dreaded and completely uncontrolled status of ‘general cargo’.”
And, he adds: “There has been no word from IATA on how it intends to enforce this new label requirement or how to address and clarify stakeholders’ liability.”
IATA is, effectively, unable to enforce the regulation. Ms Gruber adds that cargo carrying the label, which hasn’t been booked as such, will be transported as general cargo. If cargo is booked correctly, it will be carried correctly. The label, then, is little more than a sign to help those dealing with such a shipment to identify it easily.
It’s a difficult situation. IATA is clearly trying to do the right thing – it wants to introduce a higher level of service, to ensure that healthcare products, which are very important to air cargo’s meagre revenues, get handled correctly, and the label is a simple way to do it. “These requirements are to the benefit of the industry,” insists Ms Gruber.
But is it to the benefit of the industry if it is neither enforceable, nor manageable by many carriers, nor known about by shippers? Does that make it simply confusing? Or worse, dilute all those originally good intentions?
One source suggests that the mandatory label has been pushed through for ‘personal interests’, and is hard for carriers with fewer resources to implement.
If this is true, the group is in danger of derailing its own goals, negating the positive affect that the TTTF should have. It will do IATA and the industry no good at all if people join groups only to prevent ‘personal interests’ from becoming regulations, rather than becoming an overall force for good.
And there is something about this that reminds one of how IATA used to be, not as it promises to be now. Is it communicating effectively with others in the chain? Is it listening to all the voices? Or do the best political skills win?
The goal for everyone is to make a better product, to raise industry standards. But as one source says sadly: “The TTTF started out as a great endeavour, but seems to have lost its way.”