More Limits on Shipping Lithium Batteries?

Many aircraft parts distributors who ship lithium batteries have been frustrated with the constant change in lithium battery shipping instructions. It looks like change will remain a constant in this field.

The Associated Press is reporting that ICAO may ban lithium batteries from being flown as cargo on passenger aircraft:

A U.N. panel has recommended that cargo shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries be banned from passenger airliners because the batteries can create fires capable of destroying planes, said aviation officials familiar with the decision.

This could result in all lithium batteries being flown under a “Cargo Aircraft Only” limit.  The matter is not yet final – it must be approved by the ICAO Council.  The ICAO council is scheduled to take up the matter in February, 2016.

This appears to reflect a reversal of ICAO’s expected position, as the ICAO Panel on Dangerous Goods voted 11-7 against a ban in October 2015.

In July, Boeing advised air carriers of the dangers of shipping lithium batteries.  As a consequence, many air carriers have already implemented their own voluntary bans – they have made unilateral decisions to refuse lithium battery shipments.

Under the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, Section 828, Congress precluded the U.S. Department of Transportation from issuing or enforcing any regulation regarding the air transportation of lithium batteries, if the requirement was more stringent than the ICAO Technical Instructions.  This means that changing the ICAO standards becomes an important prerequisite to any increase in U.S. standards.

New Solutions on the Horizon?

Stanford University researchers claim that they have developed a technology that will “shut down” lithium batteries when they reach a certain temperature, preventing them from continuing to contribute to the conditions that contribute to lithium battery fires.  Even if this technology is successful in preventing fires, it could take some time to implement the technology in batteries, and the technology could have other implications in batteries used in aircraft (so it would have to be fully tested).

Watch the Requirements

Because of the frequency of changes in lithium battery instructions, it is important that all shippers ensure that they have the latest versions of the instructions from which they are shipping (whether they use the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations, the ICAO Technical Instructions, of the U.S. DOT Regulations).  Lithium battery instructions have been changing on a more frequent basis than the three year recurrent training requirements, so more frequent training may be appropriate.

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About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

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