The government needs to do a better job monitoring and inspecting hazardous materials shipped aboard airlines, according to a report released Friday by the Transportation Department’s inspector general.
How well the Federal Aviation Administration monitors dangerous cargo came into question after the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Everglades, which killed 110 people. The accident was blamed on a fire caused by illegal shipment of oxygen generators in the cargo hold.
Since then, the report said, “the FAA’s enforcement of hazmat regulations has been in flux.” It criticized the agency for reviewing paperwork to make sure shippers and air carriers are properly declaring hazardous materials, without conducting covert tests to make sure airlines are handling them properly.
The report, by Assistant Inspector General Alexis Stefani, said the FAA also takes too long to enforce hazardous materials cases.
FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said the FAA took action to strengthen the hazardous materials program well before the report was issued.
The agency is developing new ways to speed actions on cases and working with air carriers to voluntarily report hazardous materials violations, Spitaliere said.
The FAA, though, can’t conduct covert inspections because the law doesn’t allow hazardous materials labels on packages that don’t contain such material, she said.