Air cargo safety hazards show dangers of deregulation

Dive Brief:

  • The Trump administration's anti-regulatory stance has forestalled a ban on lithium battery transport by air, with no calendar date yet proposed for reviewing hte regulation, the Associated Press reported Monday.
  • Lithium-ion batteries are used to power cell phones, laptops, electric cars and other common items, but have allegedly sparked in-flight fires causing the death of four pilots and 3 cargo jets' destruction over the past 15 years. A voluntary refusal to transport the batteries is currently taking place of the law.
  • Meanwhile, lobbyists disagree with the proposed ban, arguing residents of remote locations need the batteries, proof of fire hazards are lacking and a ban would significantly raise the costs borne by consumers.

Dive Insight:

The debate over lithium battery transport pits consumer and shippers' interests against transporters, prompting the previous administration to review the issue to determine whether a ban was justified.

Air transport groups have called for a full ban against the product and stronger enforcement of the rule at the point of origin, calling out "rogue" shippers in August for ignoring the safety rules. Yet, shippers argue critical goods like medical products need lithium batteries, and delays in transport by using anything but air could also cost lives. The United Nations last year passed a resolution banning shipments of lithium batteries on passenger planes, but enforcement has lagged according to air carriers.

Federal review of the issue would seek evidence to qualify the debate in the form of the proposed rulemaking process. While a study by the Federal Aviation Administration found lithium fires may be uncontrollable on planes, lobbyists argue the evidence is not enough.

It hardly matters now, however, as the administration's blanket reconsideration of all regulations makes such a ban increasingly unlikely. Deregulation has become a political rallying cry, and with some rules — like hours of service regulations for truckers — being scrapped for lack of evidence, the burden to push for regulation and provide is on the carriers.

Most industries prefer this, but recent statements from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggest the fragmented industry is facing a tragedy of the commons, where what is best for the industry is not being pursued due to independent interests. Regulation may be the push the industry needs to adopt best practices, but it does not seem the regulatory push will come from the U.S. anytime soon.

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Filed Under: Regulation