Cathay freighters to carry lithium batteries again

Cathay’s new fire-containment bag for lithium-ion batteries.

Standalone lithium-ion batteries can once again be carried by Cathay Pacific Cargo on its freighter aircraft, after the carrier developed and introduced a fire-containment bag. Shipments of standalone lithium-ion batteries are a significant driver of freighter traffic, especially given the growth of e-commerce and personal electronic devices.

Under a provision adopted by the ICAO Council in February 2016, lithium-ion batteries that are not contained in equipment or packed with equipment were prohibited as cargo on passenger aircraft effective from 1 April 2016. Additionally, on cargo aircraft, these batteries must be offered for transport at a state of charge not more than 30% of their rated design capacity.

Cathay has had an embargo on bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries on both its freighters and passenger aircraft since 2015. The carrier’s new solution consists of a bag which comes in two different sizes, carrying up to 30kg or 50kg each. The bag, which has been approved by the FAA, is capable of containing a fire by limiting the supply of oxygen but letting smoke escape at the same time, which would trigger an aircraft’s smoke detectors.

Lithium batteries present a major fire risk if they aren’t packaged properly. Short circuits, external damage or overheating could all result in combustion or explosion. On 3 September 2010, a UPS 747-400F (35668) flying from Dubai (DXB) to Cologne (CGN) crashed after takeoff due to an uncontained fire, which started in a section of the maindeck containing “a significant number of lithium-type batteries and other combustible materials,” according to the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority.

Cathay said that it was also looking at developing solutions that will allow it to fly batteries in higher quantities or of larger sizes, such as those used in the automotive industry.

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