The 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.