Two Sets of Dangerous Goods Declarations? Beware of the Pitfalls!

I recently had a question from a trade association member who was facing a request that worried him.  He was shipping from the United States to a foreign air carrier, and that foreign air carrier uses a freight forwarder so the expectation was that the parts would be sent to the freight forwarder in the United States.  The aircraft parts in question happened to be hazardous materials.  The freight forwarder had asked him to provide two sets of dangerous goods documentation:

  • one Dangerous Goods Declaration from the distributor’s facility to the freight forwarder; and,
  • one Dangerous Goods Declaration from the distributor’s facility to the end user/airline).

For purposes of this article, I will assume that the parts are aircraft parts, are hazardous materials, and that they are destined for an export location.  My answer is that you should investigate your potential liabilities thoroughly, because you generally should not provide two (different) sets of Dangerous Goods Declarations.

Generally, the shipper is responsible for creating the shipping papers (such as the Dangerous Goods Declaration).   49 C.F.R. 171.2(e); IATA DGR

The norm would be that you as a shipper would produce one shipping document from your facility to the ultimate destination. The ICAO and IATA standards anticipate this and specify that the consignee on the Dangerous Goods Declaration does not need to be the same as the consignee on the air waybill (IATA DGR Note). This means that your air waybill can take the goods to the freight forwarder while the Dangerous Goods Declaration takes them all the way to the end customer. When the air waybill takes the goods only as far as the freight forwarder but the Dangerous Goods Declaration and other documents anticipate that the freight forwarder is merely acting as a consolidator, with the ultimate consignee being the different party to whom the goods will be sent, then the freight forwarder should not be treated as a shipper.

In such a situation, the freight forwarder would issue their own air waybill (known as a “house air waybill”) for the consolidated transport from their facility to the ultimate consignee, and the existing Dangerous Goods Declaration would continue to follow the shipment. The freight forwarder may make one or more additional copies of the Dangerous Goods Declaration, because only the first operator was required to receive an original of the Dangerous Goods Declaration (IATA DGR Note). There may be a mismatch between the consignor on the Dangerous Goods Declaration (which is you, the original shipper) and the consignor on the air waybill (which may be the freight forwarder); this mismatch is both acceptable and anticipated (IATA DGR Note).

In some rare cases, the ultimate customer asks the shipper to ship only as far as the freight forwarder. This may be done where the ultimate customer knows that it needs the articles but has not yet made a decision about which line station the goods will be sent to (which may be based on scheduling and dispatch issues that are yet to be determined). In such a case the freight forwarder becomes the consignee, and then the freight forwarder becomes the shipper (because you, as the originating shipper, have not been informed of any other final consignee)! In such a case, you should be careful about keeping the responsibilities clear. If the freight forwarder becomes the shipper because of the way that the transaction is structured, this is usually at the request of the ultimate consignee, and you as seller/shipper should be careful not to put yourself in a position where you are creating documents for the freight forwarder, and potentially taking responsibility for the actions of the freight forwarder, in cases where you do not have any control over the freight forwarder’s compliance.

This is an unusual situation that will likely make the freight forwarder uncomfortable.  I have seen this sort of situation arise where the freight forwarder wanted a second Dangerous Goods Declaration completed with a blank consignee.  I recommend that the US-based distributor refuse to provide a Dangerous Goods Declaration with blanks.  One reasons for this refusal is because the consignment could be redirected to a target that would violate U.S. export laws.

I have seen this request for multiple differing copies of the documents arise a number of times in the past. Where the relationship is an ongoing one, and there is a desire to support the wishes of the freight forwarder, one way that our firm has dealt with it is by creating a contract that clearly explains who is responsible for what, and that establishes clear lines of indemnification in case something goes wrong.


About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Air Carrier Purchasing Conference, and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association. He also represents private clients drawn from the spectrum of the aviation industry.

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