New Hazmat Rules for Shippers

Tomorrow, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) will publish a new revision to the United States Hazmat rules.  The new revision is intended to better harmonize United States Hazmat rules with the ICAO Technical Instructions for Shipping Dangerous Goods.  The Technical Instructions are republished by IATA as the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations and are widely used in the aviation community.

Those who work with standards for cylinders, and those who fill, or service/requalify, cylinders, will want to review these changes carefully.

The changes also better clarify how to identify certain types of vehicles, including remote control aircraft.

Lithium battery special conditions (e.g. special conditions 181-182) are updated.  Section 173.185, which provides the packaging instructions for lithium cells and batteries, is also updated.  Be sure you follow the new labeling and marking requirements!

The new US Lithium Battery Label is authorized for use immediately in 2017

Shippers subject to U.S. jurisdiction are permitted to voluntarily comply with the new rules as of January 1, 2017 (yes, that is three months before the final rule was published).  The mandatory compliance date will be January 1, 2018.

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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.

Battery Shipments Could Get Tougher

Last week, Boeing issued a warning about transporting lithium batteries on aircraft.  The news media is reporting that:

The guidance sent to airlines around the globe urged that they not carry the batteries as cargo “until safer methods of packaging and transport are established and implemented,” Boeing spokesman Doug Alder told The Associated Press in an email.

IATA has published its own guidance on the subject.  In addition to republishing ICAO’s dangerous goods shipping requirements, IATA has also published its own lithium battery risk mitigation guide for air carriers.

The Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) issued a press release on July 20th in response to the Boeing missive that stated:

PRBA–The Rechargeable Battery Association shares Boeing’s goal of improving the safe transport of bulk shipments of lithium ion batteries by air. We look forward to continuing our engagement with Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, the airline industry and regulators at the ICAO battery meeting in late July to discuss battery transportation issues, specifically a new and unprecedented lithium ion battery standard and packaging criteria.

Ongoing international regulatory initiatives, along with the development of innovative fire suppression technologies and more robust international enforcement efforts are reducing risk and advancing battery safety. Together, these ambitious efforts to improve transportation safety mitigate the need to prohibit air shipments of lithium ion batteries used daily in thousands of consumer, aerospace, medical, military, transportation and environmental applications.

Safety remains PRBA’s No. 1 priority and our members are proud of their outstanding safety record. We also have supported ICAO’s recent regulatory initiatives on lithium batteries, including new stringent packaging and labelling requirements. Billions of lithium ion batteries have been shipped safely by all modes of transportation over the last 25 years. PRBA is not aware of a single incident involving the transport by air of a fully compliant shipment of lithium ion batteries.

PRBA also remains concerned that certification of aircraft fail to consider the unique hazards associated with the carriage of any dangerous goods, not just those associated with lithium batteries.

The FAA continues to press for compliance in this arena, and has announced multiple civil penalty actions related to improper shipment of lithium batteries in the past year.

Distributors shipping lithium batteries should make sure that the batteries are treated as dangerous goods and properly prepared for shipment, but distributors should also be aware that some carriers could refuse to carry lithium batteries in the wake of the Boeing all-operators letter.  It appears that some carriers have already banned the bulk shipment of batteries:

Several airlines have already banned bulk battery shipments from the bellyhold, including Cathay Pacific, United, IAG Cargo and Qantas.

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