Air CargoTrucking Regulation

FAA to streamline fire regulations for cargo compartments

Federal regulators want to simplify regulations meant to protect cargo compartments from fire hazards in a proposal they say will be a net savings for aircraft manufacturers.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposal, scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on July 3, would apply to manufacturers of U.S.-operated “transport category” airplanes – such as Boeing [NYSE: BA] – and would include both commercial passenger jets and cargo-only freighters.

However, the proposed changes would not apply to cargo containers, “even though the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended improved flammability standards for cargo containers,” the FAA pointed out in the proposal. “Unlike the cargo compartments that house them, cargo containers are usually not part of the airplane type design, and so are not directly affected by the requirements,” the agency said, noting that it is conducting a separate ongoing analysis of potential regulatory changes for cargo containers.

The FAA proposes converting flammability regulations for manufacturers applying to certify planes in the U.S. “from detailed, prescriptive requirements into simpler, performance-based standards.” It would divide the regulations into two categories: those designed to protect the airplane and its occupants from in-flight fires, and those designed to protect against hazards caused by post-crash fires.

“In addition, this proposal would remove test methods from the regulations and allow applicants, in certain cases, to demonstrate compliance either without conducting tests or by providing independent substantiation of the flammability characteristics of a proposed material,” according to the FAA. “This action is necessary to eliminate unnecessary testing, increase standardization and improve safety.”

Over a 19-year period of an analysis of the regulation, the FAA estimated the present value costs of the proposal at $71.1 million and total cost savings of $119.8 million, for a net savings of $48.7 million over the period.

The agency explained that because fewer post-crash flammability requirements currently apply to airplanes designed to carry 19 or fewer passengers, much of the streamlining would only apply to larger airplanes. “For the same reason, for airplanes designed to carry 19 or fewer passengers, fewer in-flight flammability tests would be eliminated by meeting post-crash flammability test requirements. Thus, applicants for type certification of airplanes with 19 or fewer passengers might not benefit from the same degree of simplified testing,” it stated.

While the regulations do not apply directly to the airline operators, any costs or savings could potentially be passed down.

Steve Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association, which represents all-cargo airlines such as UPS [NYSE: UPS] and FedEx [NYSE: FDX], said that he is still assessing the potential effects of the proposal but agrees generally with the federal agency’s regulatory approach.

“The FAA has moved in a direction of describing the outcome that needs to be reached rather than putting in prescriptive rules, and consulting with the industry to see how that can be done,” Alterman told FreightWaves. “I think it’s best when industry and government can work together to make regulations safer.”

A 90-day comment period will follow after the regulation is published.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes FedEx (No. 1) and UPS (No. 2).

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.