April 6, 2011

The ability to transport sensitive or outsized equipment is an important reason many companies rely on business aviation, but operators should be aware of the risks and legal restrictions on carrying hazardous materials (hazmat). Passengers may also want to bring items aboard the aircraft that are restricted by federal Hazardous Materials Regulations.

“Members have had hazmat questions about laptop batteries, medical oxygen tanks and a number of other items that may not be immediately apparent as a hazmat when carried aboard aircraft,” said Mark Larsen, NBAA project manager, operations & web development.

For example, items governed by federal Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) and prohibited aboard aircraft are spray paints, aerosol laundry starch and strike-anywhere matches. Federal HMR are issued by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) at the U.S. Department of Transportation. PHMSA allows some items, such as pepper spray, to be carried in a passenger’s checked baggage only, while others, such as spare lithium batteries, are only permitted in carry-on baggage.

Lithium batteries are considered hazmat because if handled improperly, they can overheat and ignite, causing fires that are hard to extinguish.

“Dealing with a laptop fire can be counterintuitive,” said Larsen. “You might think to try and smother the fire, but that keeps the heat near the other battery cells, which may cause the other battery cells to ignite. It’s best to extinguish the fire with a halon extinguisher and then continuously pour water or other non-alcoholic liquids over the laptop to bring the temperature down.”

HMR permit the carriage of lithium batteries installed in the devices they are intended for, as well as spare batteries, as long as they are packed in carry-on baggage and are protected from damage or short circuit. This is best done by putting tape over the battery terminals or storing batteries in their original retail packaging.

If a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector finds hazardous materials improperly aboard the aircraft, the operator could be subject to significant fines or penalties.

“It’s always best to recognize the hazardous material ahead of time, before it makes it onto the flight,” said Larsen. “It’s the responsibility of the operator, whether Part 91 or Part 135, to know the regulations and advise passengers ahead of time of what items are restricted.”

Part 135 charter operators are required to be trained in identifying hazardous materials and many part 91 flight departments incorporate such training into their training program. The International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) requires identification of hazardous materials training and operators that seek to obtain IS-BAO registration must ensure that hazardous materials are not transported on the aircraft unless authorized and in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air (Doc 9284) or International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations and country-specific hazardous materials regulations.

For more information on handling of hazardous materials, including an FAA list of common restricted items, review NBAA’s safety page on hazmat.