At the end of last week, Boeing issued guidance to its customers, warning them not to carry bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries as belly cargo on passenger aircraft.
Boeing has not released the text of the message, but according to The Wall Street Journal, the message “explicitly urged passenger carriers world-wide to stop accepting large quantities of the ubiquitous power sources as cargo until more-protective packaging and enhanced shipping procedures are in place.”
Boeing’s warning echoes a statement from the US Federal Aviation Administration saying that testing it has conducted indicates that the transport of lithium batteries “presents a risk.” Further, Airbus is also on record as warning about the dangers of lithium battery fires.
Of course, that risk was already well known. Most in the industry accept that fire suppression systems currently in use on aircraft cannot cope with lithium battery fires, and almost thirty carriers have already banned bulk shipments of the batteries on their passenger aircraft.
Assuming more carriers follow suit, does this mean that shipment of lithium-ion batteries – a source of considerable revenue to the air freight industry – will from now on be carried out only on freighter aircraft? Not necessarily. All-cargo carrier Cargolux has already banned such shipments, and pilot groups are pushing for a blanket ban until effective safety standards can be put in place.
A working group of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has been trying to come up with new standards for packaging that can contain battery fires, and will meet again at the end of July. However, if the group is unable to come up with such standards, it seems likely that ICAO will propose a blanket ban on bulk battery shipments on passenger aircraft.
If that happens, we would not be surprised to see many more freighter operators joining Cargolux and instituting self-imposed bans.