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DeFazio Blasts DOT for Jeopardizing Aviation Safety, Replacing FAA with PHMSA on International Aviation Safety Board

Oct 19, 2017
Press Release

DeFazio Blasts DOT for Jeopardizing Aviation Safety, Replacing FAA with PHMSA on International Aviation Safety Board

 

Washington, D.C. -- Today, the Ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, blasting her for a decision to replace the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) lead United States representative on the Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The FAA has been a world leader in testing packages and containers used for transporting dangerous goods, including lithium cells and batteries, on aircraft and evaluating the control of fires. PHMSA, on the other hand, has repeatedly demonstrated its coziness to industry representatives that strongly oppose the regulation of lithium cells and batteries and other dangerous goods, and worked to combat FAA safety proposals at ICAO meetings and within the Department.

“You have repeatedly stated that ‘safety will always remain a top priority’ under your leadership at the DOT. If safety truly is your focus, the FAA must continue to be the expert representing U.S. interests before ICAO’s DGP. As a Member of Congress who has fought to put passenger and aircrew safety above economic interests for three decades, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider. You are making a grave mistake for reasons beyond comprehension. In the meantime, I intend to introduce legislation that authorizes the FAA to regulate hazardous materials and makes the FAA the lead U.S. representative on the ICAO DGP permanently,” DeFazio wrote.

The Department made this decision to replace FAA with PHMSA just days before the Montreal meeting during which the DGP will consider a Working Paper submitted by the FAA to ICAO proposing amendments to the Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air regarding portable electronic devices (PEDs) carried by passengers and crew.[1] PHMSA purportedly opposes these amendments.

The full letter is below.

The FAA Working Paper can be found here.

 

 

October 19, 2017

The Honorable Elaine L. Chao

Secretary

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20590

 

Dear Secretary Chao:

I understand that you have decided to replace the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) as the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) lead United States representative on the Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). I find your decision inexplicable, and I strongly believe it has the potential to put the lives of airline passengers and crews at serious risk.

On June 21, 2017, I sent you a letter strongly urging you to maintain the FAA as the lead U.S. representative on the Panel. The FAA—not PHMSA—is the world’s foremost expert in aviation safety. FAA’s mission is, in fact, to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. I have no idea what PHMSA’s mission is, or whether its leaders do, because the agency is so dysfunctional that it cannot even finalize crucial safety rulemakings that Congress mandated more than five years ago.

Moreover, the FAA—not PHMSA—leads the world in testing packages and containers used for transporting dangerous goods on aircraft and evaluating the control of fires. In fact, according to major aircraft manufacturers, such as Boeing and Airbus, testing at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center (FAA Tech Center) has demonstrated that “the uncontrollability of lithium battery fires can ultimately negate the capability of current aircraft cargo fire suppression systems, and can lead to a catastrophic failure of the airframe.”1

PHMSA, on the other hand, has repeatedly demonstrated its coziness to industry representatives that strongly oppose the regulation of lithium cells and batteries and other dangerous goods, and worked to combat FAA safety proposals at ICAO meetings and within the Department. This is what led to PHMSA’s removal as lead U.S. representative on the ICAO DGP. I would love to hear that these failures are in the past, but according to DOT’s Inspector General, in an October 2016 report, PHMSA still is not adequately coordinating with the FAA on its safety concerns regarding hazardous materials rulemaking and international standards development.[2]

In addition, it is suspect that the Department made this decision just days before the Montreal meeting during which the DGP will consider a Working Paper submitted by the FAA to ICAO proposing amendments to the Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air regarding portable electronic devices (PEDs) carried by passengers and crew.[3] PHMSA purportedly opposes these amendments.

The amendments would require devices larger than a cell phone or smartphone, such as a laptop or tablet, containing lithium metal or lithium ion cells or batteries to be transported in carry-on baggage and not in checked baggage unless approved by the operator.

According to the Working Paper, the Fire Safety Branch at the FAA Tech Center conducted several tests to determine the effectiveness of the aircraft cargo compartment Halon 1301 fire suppression system against potential fire scenarios involving devices containing lithium batteries, which are currently allowed in checked baggage.[4] In one such test, a lithium ion cell was forced into thermal runaway in a suitcase containing a mere eight-ounce aerosol can of dry shampoo; the results were “most troubling”, according to the FAA. The Working Paper describes the results as follows:

Fire was observed almost immediately after thermal runaway was initiated. The fire rapidly grew, and within 40 seconds, the aerosol can of shampoo exploded with the resulting fire rapidly consuming the bag and its contents. This test showed that, given the rapid progression of the fire, a Halon fire suppression system cannot dispense Halon quickly enough to reach a sufficient concentration to suppress the fire and prevent the explosion.[5]

Additional tests involving a lithium ion cell and other common items such as hand sanitizer or nail polish remover were conducted, leading to the same conclusion: “[I]f a PED is packed in a suitcase with an aerosol can and a thermal runaway event occurs, there is the potential for an aerosol can explosion.” According to the FAA:

The explosion itself may or may not be strong enough to structurally damage the aircraft, but in a Class C cargo compartment it will most likely compromise the Halon fire suppression system by dislodging blow panels or cargo liners, rendering the compartment unable to contain the Halon. The fire suppression system of the aircraft is then compromised, which could lead to the loss of the aircraft. [emphasis added].[6]

These are the types of aviation risks that the FAA—not PHMSA—addresses every day. Based on the FAA’s years-long research and testing of the safety hazards associated with the air transport of lithium cells and batteries, ICAO finally adopted commonsense standards for the transportation of lithium cells and batteries last year, an effort that PHMSA had long opposed. The amendments that the ICAO DGP is now considering will build upon those standards.

You have repeatedly stated that “safety will always remain a top priority” under your leadership at the DOT. If safety truly is your focus, the FAA must continue to be the expert representing U.S. interests before ICAO’s DGP.

As a Member of Congress who has fought to put passenger and aircrew safety above economic interests for three decades, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider. You are making a grave mistake for reasons beyond comprehension. In the meantime, I intend to introduce legislation that authorizes the FAA to regulate hazardous materials and makes the FAA the lead U.S. representative on the ICAO DGP permanently.

Sincerely,

 

PETER DeFAZIO

Ranking Member

 

1 International Coordination Council for Aerospace Industries Association and the International Federation of Airline Pilots Association, Transport of Lithium Batteries As Cargo Via Air, Working Paper No. DGP-WG/15-WP/4 (2015).

2 Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation, Insufficient Guidance, Oversight, and Coordination Hinder PHMSA’s Full Implementation of Mandates and Recommendations, Rpt. No. ST-2017-002 (October 14, 2016).

3 Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Portable Electronic Devices Carried by Passengers and Crew, Working Paper No. DGP/26-WP/43 (2017).

4 Id. at 3.

5 Id.

6 Id.

 

[1] Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Portable Electronic Devices Carried by Passengers and Crew, Working Paper No. DGP/26-WP/43 (2017).

[2] Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation, Insufficient Guidance, Oversight, and Coordination Hinder PHMSA’s Full Implementation of Mandates and Recommendations, Rpt. No. ST-2017-002 (October 14, 2016).

[3] Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Portable Electronic Devices Carried by Passengers and Crew, Working Paper No. DGP/26-WP/43 (2017).

[4] Id. at 3.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.