A guide to air freighting dangerous goods

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By Daniel Norris

Air freight is one of the most efficient ways to transport goods. However, stringent health and safety rules are applied when moving dangerous goods by plane. Being aware of these is key to making sure items don’t get stuck in the airport or lead to your business being fined. 

However, with the UK air freight industry continuing to grow and 1,350,895 tonnes being moved via Heathrow alone in 2022, hazardous items are regularly transported safely. This article will outline what the air freight regulations are and the measures required to meet them. 

What are classed as ‘dangerous goods’?

The official classification of dangerous goods is set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). This was set up by the United Nations (UN) to maintain effective air mobility across all member states. Its guidelines set out what items are hazardous to carry by air on both passenger and freight services. 

It defines dangerous goods as ‘articles or substances which are capable of posing a risk to health, safety, property or the environment’. In short, they’re items which might be or become hazardous to aircraft or the people on it. 

Specific information about what these items are, whether they can be carried on passenger or freight planes and, if so, how they should be packaged and stored, are set out in ICAO’s Technical Instructions

The nine classifications of dangerous goods

There are more than 3,000 items set out on ICAO’s Dangerous Goods list. These are all categorised under nine different classes. This makes them easier for operators to identify and handle correctly. 

The classes are as follows: 

  • Class 1 Explosives: items that are at risk of detonation or explosion due to a change in conditions or chemical reaction, arranged into sub divisions depending on volatility. Examples include fireworks, flares and ammunition.
  • Class 2 Gases: any substance which is gaseous at 20C and standard atmospheric pressure, this includes liquefied, dissolved gases and aerosols
  • Class 3 Flammable Liquids: materials (or items containing them) that have a flash point of below 60C such as adhesives, Alcohols or fuels.
  • Class 4 Flammable Solids: substances which may spontaneously heat up or combust when subject to environmental changes, for example, carbon, metal powders or iron oxide
  • Class 5 Oxidising substances: this includes organic peroxides, nitrates and potassium materials which release oxygen and cause combustion in other materials
  • Class 6 Toxic and infectious materials: these are dangerous when they come into contact with humans or animals and include biomedical waste, acids and biological substances
  • Class 7 Radioactive substances: any items or materials that contain radionuclides and cause harm by emitting radiation such as medical isotopes or density gauges
  • Class 8 Corrosives: these chemicals cause other materials to break down when they come into contact, they include battery fluids, fuel cells and fire extinguisher charges
  • Class 9 Miscellaneous Items: this includes materials or goods that aren’t covered by other classes but are still hazardous to people or the environment including dry ice, vehicles and chemical kits

There are sub-divisions within each of these classes which specify particular items in these categories. These ensure each item is handled appropriately and safely. 

How to check if your goods are listed as ‘dangerous’

You can check if your items are categorised as hazardous yourself by looking them up on the ICAO’s Dangerous Goods list or checking the regulations from the International Air Transport Association (IATA)

Alternatively, you can ask your item’s manufacturer or supplier for a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). This will identify any hazardous substances contained in your item using a four-digit number. It will also set out which Globally Harmonised System (GHS) categories the item falls under. 

Supplying an SDS with your goods is recommended to stay compliant with any transportation regulations. It will help ensure that items clear inspections and are handled and shipped safely.


The importance of understanding air freight regulations

Understanding air freight regulations will help you transport your dangerous goods compliantly. This will ensure items get to their destination safely with minimal disruption and avoid any potential fines to your business.

To transport dangerous goods by air on a UK-registered plane, you need to follow the regulations set out by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). This organisation is responsible for checking goods transported to and from the UK against health and safety regulations. 

The CAA will require proof of the following in your application: 

  • An individual has been nominated as the person responsible for your goods
  • This individual is aware of and has followed the appropriate handling guidelines for your goods as set out in ICAO Technical Instructions or IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations
  • Anyone packaging and handling your goods has been given appropriate training
  • Appropriate procedures for the transport of your goods, including Emergency Response Guidance, have been set out and supplied to the crew on the aircraft carrying your items

The CAA will verify these details after the SRG 2807 application and SRG 2812 payment form have been submitted to the Dangerous Goods Office. You can find the latest details about what payments may be required under the CAA Scheme of Charges.


What are the consequences of incorrectly air freighting dangerous goods?

If your dangerous goods shipment doesn’t meet the regulations of the relevant aviation authority, your business or operator could be subject to legal action. 

In the UK, freight that breaches the rules set out by IATA’s Dangerous Goods Regulations can lead to an unlimited fine and prison sentence of up to two years. If your goods fail an inspection by the CAA or cause an incident on an aircraft during transportation, then you may be subject to both penalties. 

How to organise air freight of dangerous goods

Taking the steps below before you freight dangerous goods by air will save you time, money and potential disruption later. 

Choose an experienced and reputable freight forwarder

Choosing a trustworthy goods transportation provider such as HFS will give you the support and expertise you need to make sure your dangerous goods shipments meet regulations. With all application, packaging and handling measures taken care of, you can have total peace of mind knowing your items will get to their destination safely and efficiently. 

HFS has the accreditations, authorisations and licenses required to carry your hazardous items, including trained dangerous goods safety advisors. This means we can run the whole process compliantly and help you avoid extra costs, delays or accidental breaches of legislation. 

Understand regulations and responsibilities 

It’s the responsibility of any business shipping dangerous goods to meet the regulations set out by the IATA. This involves: 

Prepare required documentation

The main pieces of documentation that need to accompany each shipment are the Shipper’s Declaration for Dangerous Goods and an Air Waybill. The Declaration sets out the amount and type of dangerous goods in a shipment, details of the departure airport and any packaging or handling information. Specific formatting guidelines need to be followed to ensure compliance. 

An Air Waybill includes an identification number, package quantity and hazard category. It also affirms that any shipments have been packaged and labelled correctly according to regulations. The HFS team will check or assist shippers in filling out and supplying this paperwork to make sure it’s compliant. 

Understanding the right packaging required

Incorrectly packaging dangerous goods won’t just leave shippers in breach of air freight regulations. It can also risk the safety of handlers or aircraft crews if it’s not secure enough to withstand in-flight condition changes. 

To avoid these problems, shippers need to make sure the packaging of their dangerous goods:

  • Meets the guidelines of the ICAO Packing Group appropriate to their hazardous items’ classification. For example, Packing Group I for high-danger items. Any materials used also need to have UN-approved markings and specifications
  • Is clearly labelled using the GHS symbols set out by IATA. These labels need to be fixed securely to the packaging, be clearly visible and include an English version alongside the language from the shipment’s original location

Each shipment also needs to be packaged according to the latest guidelines by a fully-trained handler. 

Freight forwarder role and responsibilities

Freight forwarders will check your packaging and paperwork for dangerous goods as standard. We give shippers extra support so they can send their hazardous cargo by air safely and efficiently. 

Taking the pressure of the sender

From applying to the correct aviation authority to packaging your items correctly and ensuring your shipment meets the latest regulation requirements. Freighting dangerous goods by air is a long and complicated process. It’s also high-pressure. Get it wrong and you could be subject to fines or legal action.

As experts in handling and transporting hazardous items, experienced forwarders like HFS take this stress away from shippers. We’ll work with the right aviation authorities, take care of your items’ packaging and handling and ensure the whole process is done compliantly. So you don’t need to worry about accidentally breaching regulations. 

Providing guidance and reassurance of safer delivery

Getting your dangerous goods to their destination safely and compliantly might not be easy, but it’s essential if your business is going to meet customers’ needs. Alongside accredited safety advisors and teams knowledgeable in air freight regulations, trusted providers like HFS also have foresight experts. 

These specialist have years of experience in making sure cargo reaches its location, so you can be reassured that your dangerous goods will arrive at their destination efficiently. This certainty will give you and your customers complete confidence that your shipments will arrive on time. 

Get in touch about your air freight requirements 

Whether you need to transport dangerous goods regularly or as a one-off shipment, our experienced team can help. Contact us to find out more about how we can support you when transporting hazardous items by air.