The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said Sept. 2 it plans to issue a $175,000 civil penalty against the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for alleged violations of Department of Transportation hazardous materials regulations.
The FAA claims MIT offered a fiberboard box containing 33 electronic devices to FedEx Express for transportation by air from Cambridge, Mass., to Seattle on Aug. 25, 2009. Each electronic device consisted of a lithium battery attached to a circuit board and tube-like container.
The package was discovered with smoke and flames coming from it while it was moving on a conveyor at the FedEx sorting facility in Medford, Mass. Two of the devices in the package heated and melted, which caused the surrounding cushioning and packaging to catch fire. Because the package was not properly labeled and marked, FedEx employees did not know the shipment contained hazardous material. They made several unsuccessful attempts to extinguish the flames with a fire extinguisher.
Specifically, the batteries were not packaged in a manner that would prevent a short circuit that could create sparks or generate a dangerous quantity of heat, the FAA said.
MIT allegedly offered the box when it was not packaged, marked, classed, described, labeled or in condition for shipment to meet regulations. The airway bill accompanying the shipment specifically stated the shipment did not contain dangerous goods.
In addition, the FAA alleges MIT employees were not properly trained and tested to handle hazardous material.
You’d expect the guys at Brew Thru State, not MIT, to make a mistake like putting a volatile device in a box, transported on a plane, without proper safeguards.
It’s safe to assume business groups are encouraged by the FAA’s action because they have pleaded for a long time with the DOT to more vigorously enforce hazmat transport rules for lithium and lithium ion batteries carried on commercial aircraft. Stronger enforcement is much preferred over a pending rule that would end certain exemptions for treating lithium batteries as full hazardous material, and force shippers to implement new packaging, labeling, documentation, training and other procedures. The proposal would also restrict capacity on aircraft for the popular power packs by limiting stowage to areas that are crew accessible or have special fire suppression systems, or force cargo carriers to invest in special containers.
Industry experts argue the new proposal won’t improve safety because all accidents so far have been by those who have failed to comply with existing rules.
747-8 is finally here
Boeing was scheduled to deliver the first 747-8 freighter to launch customer Cargolux on Sept. 19 after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency granted final certifications for the plane.
It took almost six years for Boeing to design, produce and test a stretched version of the 747-400.
Cargolux has 13 of the jumbo freighters on order. It also was the first carrier to put a 747-400 freighter into service in 1993.
The extra 18 feet, four inches in the 747-8 will provide airlines with 16 percent more revenue-generating cargo volume — four additional main deck pallets and three extra lower hold pallets. Total capacity includes 34 main deck positions and a maximum payload of 135 tons.
Boeing has 78 orders for the 747-8, including from Atlas Air, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, Nippon Cargo Airlines, AirBridge Cargo and Emirates.
A300-600s being converted at young age
Maximus Air Cargo in Abu Dhabi took delivery of a converted A300-600 in early August. The notable thing about the transaction is that the former Japan Airlines plane was only five years old at the time of conversion, making it the youngest Airbus aircraft ever converted to freighter configuration, according to the online version of the CargoFacts newsletter produced by Air Cargo Management Group in Seattle.
“While many conversion programs are suffering for lack of feedstock — even 20-plus year-old feedstock — there seems to be no shortage of A300-600s,” it said.
Maximus already operates two other A300-600s and has two more — bought from JAL as part of its downsizing — in conversion and scheduled for redelivery this year, according to the newsletter.
Cathay Pacific orders 777-200F
Cathay Pacific, pressured by a 4 percent drop in cargo tonnage in the second quarter as demand for Chinese goods waned in Europe and higher fuel prices, nonetheless announced plans to buy eight Boeing 777-200 freighters and four 777-300ER passenger planes.
The planes are scheduled for delivery from 2013 to 2016.
The Boeing 777-200F is a new aircraft type for Cathay Pacific and will be used to grow the freighter fleet while replacing older, less fuel-efficient Boeing 747-400 converted freighters. For a typical 3,000 nautical mile trip, the 777-200F burns 15 percent less fuel per payload ton than the 747-400F, and 24 percent less than the 747-400BCF.
Cathay said it will use the new aircraft on regional and European routes.
It also has 10 Boeing 747-8 freighters on order, the first two are to be delivered in late September. Boeing plans to deliver three more by the end of the year. Those planes will primarily be used on routes between Hong Kong and North America.
Cathay Pacific has 21 widebody freighters in its fleet, but two Boeing 747-400BCFs will be sold to the airline’s cargo joint venture with Air China (in addition to the two that have already been sold), while one or two more will be dry-leased to all-cargo subsidiary Air Hong Kong (two have already joined the AHK fleet). Following the arrival of the new purchases and the departure of the Boeing converted freighters, Cathay Pacific’s freighter fleet will reach 35 aircraft by 2016.
Food for thought
Two things are clear from looking at data on air cargo traffic the past seven years, according to David Harris, editor of CargoFacts.
“First, demand for air freight has been much more volatile in recent years than at any time previous. And second, even though one can’t be perfectly sure of the annualized growth rate over the last decade, it is certainly lower than the traditional 6 percent. So, is increased volatility and a lower overall growth rate the new normal? Or will the air freight business soon return to the old pattern of steadier demand growth at a rate close to the historic 6 percent?”