FAA proposes $120,000 penalty for UPS dangerous goods violation

Warehouse worker holding box with a hazmat label on it

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Friday said it intends to fine integrated logistics giant UPS $120,000 for shipping a consignment of lithium batteries in an unsafe manner.

The decision comes on the heels of airfreight interests stepping up pressure on governments to enforce violations of regulations governing dangerous goods, especially lithium ion batteries, on cargo aircraft, as FreightWaves highlighted this week.

Acting as a freight agent on behalf of a customer, UPS allegedly tendered the shipment to the company’s in-house airline for transport from Ontario, California, to its Worldport hub in Louisville, Kentucky.

Employees at the UPS facility in Louisville examined the contents of the shipment and discovered that it contained multiple loosely packed lithium batteries that had no protection from short circuit, were damaged and several of which were in a reactive state, the FAA alleged.

Lithium ion batteries that are damaged, defective and likely to generate a dangerous buildup of heat are forbidden for air transportation on cargo and passenger aircraft.

The FAA alleges the shipment was not properly packaged, was not accompanied by a Shipper’s Declaration for Dangerous Goods and was not properly described, marked or labeled to indicate the hazardous nature of its contents. The FAA also alleges UPS failed to include emergency response information with the shipment.

“UPS disagrees with FAA’s assertion. We discovered the unauthorized shipment through UPS’s compliance process and immediately reported the issue to the FAA. Safety is our highest priority. In addition to complying with all federal regulations, UPS goes beyond what federal regulations require to help ensure the safety of our employees and the general public. We are reviewing the FAA’s notification and will respond within the required timeframe,” the company said in a statement provided to FreightWaves.

UPS has 30 days after receiving the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond to the agency, after which a final decision will be made.

The International Air Transport Association and other freight-related trade groups have expressed increasing frustration with governments for not aggressively enforcing rules on air transport of lithium batteries, especially those that willfully disguise the shipment’s content in documentation. IATA recently created a database to capture such incidents and alert authorities.

In related news, the FAA proposed a $57,400 penalty against Alaska Airlines for alleged drug and alcohol testing violations. The agency alleged Alaska transferred four employees into safety-sensitive functions in January 2018 but failed to initially include them in the company’s random drug and alcohol testing pool.

Three of the employees performed aircraft maintenance duties and one served as a ground security coordinator. All four performed safety-sensitive duties when they were not included in the drug and alcohol testing pool, the FAA alleges.

Alaska has asked to meet with the FAA to discuss the case.