Lithium Batteries: are they safe?

A discussion on the safety of transporting lithium batteries

by: David Alexander, General Manager, ICAO AVSEC PM

The transport by air of lithium batteries has been in the news lately, from air carriers banning the transport of “hover boards” to the latest news that the FAA is lobbying ICAO for a total ban on the transport of lithium batteries on passenger aircraft.

But why the fuss?

Lithium Battery Fire Damage
UPS Plane destroyed by lithium ion battery fire

Imagine that you are on an aircraft at 36 000 ft and a lithium battery fire breaks out in the hold, a fire that cannot be extinguished by any current aircraft fire suppression system, a fire that provides its own oxygen, a fire that burns at 2 000 c and will continue to burn until it consumes all combustible material including the aircraft and…

Far-fetched? No. unlikely? Possibly but we are not in the business of taking chances with people’s lives.

All that being said lithium batteries are perfectly safe to carry provided that they have been UN certified as safe for transport, have been manufactured by a reputable supplier, have been packed according to IATA standards and have not been mishandled. Batteries contained in equipment (cell phones for example) or packed with equipment (your new laptop) are perfectly safe.

A lot has been happening on the safety front, this from The

The US National Transportation Safety Board issued two recommendations this week to the Department of Transport. It recommended that lithium batteries be physically separated from other flammable hazardous materials stowed on aircraft, and also to set maximum loading density requirements, which would limit the quantities of lithium batteries and flammable hazardous materials on board.

IATA issued new packing and handling guidelines as an amendment to the 57th Edition of the Dangerous Goods Regulations on the 19th January 2016, this contains numerous changes to the way that lithium batteries must be packed as well as restrictions by individual air carriers.

ICAO has also recommended that all lithium ion batteries be banned from carriage on passenger aircraft until safe packaging has been developed.

We cannot live without lithium batteries so the debate is of critical concern to all of us quite apart from the business concerns.

We suggest that you obtain specialist advice on your lithium battery shipment process and system to ensure that you stay ahead of developments.

A version of this article appeared in the latest FTW Newsletter, see it here

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