Regulators Target Hazmat
Inspections, fines on the rise as federal agencies increase scrutiny
By John Boyce, Contributing Editor
you’ve noticed an increase in FAA surveillance and enforcement of
hazardous materials transportation rules, you’re seeing part of the
agency’s response to the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in May 1996.
"It’s actually a whole new revitalized dangerous goods and cargo security program prompted by the ValuJet accident,’’ says Rebecca Trexler, a public affairs spokesperson for the FAA, in response to a question about an apparent increase in FAA enforcement of the Department of Transportation rules for transporting hazardous materials.
In a Fact Sheet, the FAA explains further, "Today, the FAA is examining virtually every aspect of the transportation of dangerous goods by air. Focused inspections done in coordination with the Postal Service, the Customs Service, the Research and Special Program Administration (RSPA) and other Department of Transportation offices, have increased awareness of the seriousness with which the FAA is actively pursuing persons and companies who fail to comply with the dangerous goods regulations."
Bill Spohrer, president and CEO of Challenge Cargo Airlines in Miami, attests to the FAA’s increased surveillance. "FAA inspectors make more frequent surprise inspections,’’ Spohrer says, "and they’re more stringent than in the past. They’re absolutely right, you can’t take chances with this stuff.
"They (FAA) try to work with you. It’s not a confrontational situation. The idea is not to punish you; the idea is to get the procedure correct —although they have no hesitation about whacking you with a fine."
The FAA reports that since 1997 it has inspected 770 repair stations, 1,369 shippers of dangerous goods, and conducted 7,452 assessments of air carriers and indirect air carriers. This effort has resulted in more than $14 million in fines. And tellingly, "The fines do not necessarily mean more violations are occurring, but rather that the FAA now has a greater ability to uncover and respond to violations."
The cause of the ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades was found to be a fire sparked by oxygen generators in the cargo hold of the aircraft. SabreTech, the company that shipped the generators, was later held criminally liable for that shipment.
That fact alone was enough to get the attention of the aviation industry, irrespective of what the FAA subsequently did, according to Jason Dickstein, general counsel for the Airline Suppliers Association (ASA) in Washington.
"There has been an increase in the enforcement by the FAA," Dickstein says, "but even if there hadn’t been, I think the SabreTech criminal actions would have been enough to turn people’s heads. Even without the enforcement you would see an awful lot more attention paid to hazmat training and hazmat quality systems."
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