Lithium batteries to be banned from passenger aircraft bellies?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Dangerous Goods Panel of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) last week proposed that the carriage of lithium metal batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft be prohibited, effective 1 January 2015. Cargo Facts believes the ban will likely be adopted, but it is currently only in the proposal stage. The Dangerous Goods Panel’s parent committee, the Air Navigation Commission (ANC) will take up the proposal at a meeting scheduled for late April, and is expected to reach a final decision before the end of the first half of this year. It may adopt the proposal as is, but may also alter it as it sees fit.

As we understand it, the Panel’s recommendation to ban lithium metal batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft exempts batteries packed with, or contained in, electronic equipment, and also exempts batteries carried into the cabin by passengers. It is hard to see ICAO banning passengers from bringing their cell phones, tablets, and laptops (mostly powered by lithium-ion, rather than lithium metal, batteries) onto airplanes, but the ANC could certainly change or expand the scope of the ban, or move the effective date forward or back.

Lithium metal batteries, if shipped or handled incorrectly can easily catch fire, and not only can the fire take the form of thermal runaway, igniting other batteries in the shipment in a chain reaction, but the halon fire suppressant used by airlines is ineffective against this kind of fire. According to IATA’s Director of Global Safety Chris Glaeser, as quoted in Air Traffic Management, there are two to three lithium battery “events” every month. So far, this has not led to the loss of any passenger aircraft, but lithium battery fires are believed to have caused the loss of at least three cargo aircraft in the five years from 2006 to 2011.

This latter point leads to the broader question of whether lithium batteries should be shipped by air at all.

Food for thought.

 

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2 Comments

  1. FedEx Express has specifically been addressing issues related to hazardous material shipments including Lithium and Lithium Ion batteries by initiating a safety program dating back to late 1990’s. This program resulted in the development of the industries first and only main deck fire suppression system that has been demonstrated to suppress bulk packaged Lithium battery fires. These systems are installed on the MD-11F and the 777F within there fleet.

    Bulk packaged primary cell Lithium batteries should not be transported as cargo aboard passenger flights. The risk is far to great, not only to the passengers but to the industry as a whole. Regulatory reaction that could be placed on belly cargo as a result of an incident has the potential to produce significant economic impact.

    The industry has historically been adverse to change on many levels, with change usually being imposed by regulators or by a slow voluntary pace. We can only hope that the pace of change will keep the flying public safe.

  2. Jens-Thomas Rueckert says:

    I enjoy reading CargoFacts which often offers a multitude of useful information from the industry. This article is pretty much horsefeathers (sorry) and I would suggest to retract it.
    Obviouly, the author wrote what he heard from others without subject-matter knowledge in the field of DG. Be clear about it, nobody is considering to ban “Lithium Batteries”, neither ICAO DGP nor ANC.
    What ICAO DID consider was banning Lithium METAL batteries, shipped as such (e.g. not packed with or contained in equipment) from transport aboard passenger aircraft. That currently already is the case in the US.
    The Lithium batteries typically carried by passengers in cellphones, MP3 players, cameras, laptops and such are usually of the Li-Ion type.

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