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Airmail: changing rules for a changing business model

The Designated Postal Operators (DPO) of the world today really have their work cut out for them. Obviously with the wide use of e-mail, the traffic of traditional letters is declining, but growth in the parcel post and letter packet product lines is more than making up for that, thanks to Amazon and other online shops The Posts are eager to increase their business and to move more commercial products in the mail.

Today, many of the commercial products transported by mail operators, such as mobile phones, smartphones and tablets, contain lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are dangerous goods, which require specific packaging and handling in order to be transported safely by air.

Complying with Dangerous Goods Regulations

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) has changed its regulations to accommodate such products in the mail and successfully lobbied the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Panel to amend its Technical Instructions as well to allow limited quantities within airmail.  This is the first time an ICAO allowance for dangerous goods has been granted to the Posts for purely commercial reasons as opposed to humanitarian ones, such as limited quantities of infectious substances for medical laboratories. However, along with enabled commercial competition come compliance issues and the DPO must have its dangerous goods training and acceptance procedures approved by the appropriate Civil Aviation Authority.

Providing advance electronic information

The European Union has also clearly indicated that advance electronic information for the mail will be required, which is another new development for the Posts. The DPO will have to provide details in advance to destination authorities for certain mail items; these are the ones with commercial value subject to a Customs declaration, typically submitted on a UPU CN23 form.  Destination authorities may  then advise the Posts of any additional action required such as providing more complete data, performing enhanced screening or in the worst case scenario -  issue a “do not load” directive. Only the items that were reported and that have no outstanding action required can be placed in the mail receptacle.

Collaboration remains key

Of course DPOs continue to count on the airlines to provide fast and reliable services for their growing mail products and airlines are keen to keep the mail business that may represent somewhere between 8 - 12 % of their cargo business. Understandably, there is a need for cooperation and consultation to meet the challenges that accompany this growth. To that end, some members of the IATA Airmail Panel are also members of the IATA-UPU Contact Committee that works under the umbrella of the IATA-UPU Memorandum of Understanding signed in Mexico City back in 2007. There is also a close working relationship with the International Post Corporation (IPC).

These collaborative efforts have produced:

  • The Guidelines for the use of the Postal Air Waybill (PAWB) number that will hopefully help bridge the gap between mail and cargo
  • A Joint UPU-IATA-IPC Brochure promoting the use of EDI in the airmail business
  • A model Framework for a Postal Service Agreement that is a template setting out standard provisions on the technical and liability aspects of a bilateral agreement between an airline and a DPO to provide transportation services for mail
  • Standards and procedures concerning the handling of mail which are included as recommendations in the IATA Airport Handling Manual

The above efforts highlight how the industry is working together to further enhance airmail safety. For more details and other useful information on the topic, please access the Air Panel website.



Additional information

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