Under normal circumstances, transporting a lighted torch aboard a commercial aircraft is not permitted. It's the kind of thing DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would have serious concerns with for obvious safety reasons.
But sharing the JFK Eternal Flame with Ireland to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s first-ever visit to Ireland by a U.S. president is not a normal circumstance.
And in recognition of strong American-Irish relations, PHMSA and FAA worked together to authorize Aer Lingus’ transport of the flame aboard a passenger aircraft on a flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Dublin, Ireland.
Domestic and international regulations give PHMSA the authority to allow alternative methods of transporting hazardous materials as long as an equivalent level of safety is ensured. And that is exactly what PHMSA did. In this case, a specially designed kerosene lamp provided the required level of safety.
Aer Lingus contacted FAA Flight Standards to request approval. FAA's Eastern Joint Security and Hazardous Materials Safety Office reviewed the airline's history and the procedures to be used on-board the aircraft and gave Aer Lingus the green light.
Not only will sharing the JFK Eternal Flame further strengthen the bonds between the U.S. and Ireland; it's also a terrific way to share President Kennedy's legacy--including his famous 1961 call to service, which inspired so many of us: "Ask not what you country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
On June 22, the JFK flame was used to light Ireland's Emigrant Flame in the small southern coastal town of New Ross, in County Wexford. New Ross was the site of President Kennedy’s Ireland visit and the point from which his great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy emigrated to America. For Ireland, the flame transfer is part of a year-long campaign “The Gathering,” which aims to encourage people of Irish heritage to visit Ireland.
For us, sharing the flame is an opportunity to share President Kennedy's effort to "assure a more fruitful life for all mankind." As he said in his inaugural address, "The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world."
I'm proud that PHMSA and FAA had a hand in sharing the flame, and I hope its light inspires all those who see it.