Thursday, July 28, 2011

Asiana Air Freighter Crash Raises Questions Again On Lithium Battery Transportation

Crew Missing at Sea
Shipping News Feature

KOREA - News that a Boeing 747 freighter operated by Asiana Airlines has crashed in the sea off Jeju Island has raised concerns yet again about the safety of transporting lithium batteries by air freight. The Asiana aircraft was on a regular cargo run between Incheon and Pudong, China when it reported control problems and contact was lost. Rescue vessels in the area report finding aircraft debris and a fuel slick. Both crew members are missing at this time.

According to the airline the lost aircrafts cargo consisted of electronic goods which featured lithium batteries, as well as liquids including resins and paints. Though conclusions on the cause will have to await the report into the incident, the fact that lithium batteries were onboard will be of major interest to the investigators.

FAA figures show that lithium batteries have been involved in at least 46 incidents involving air cargo fires and alarms since November, 2000, and are thought to have been the cause of a fire that caused the crash in September last year of a 747 freighter belonging to UPS which resulted in the death of the crew. 

When lithium batteries short circuit their small size with high voltage capacity means they can discharge extremely high currents, producing extreme heat, fire or even explode. In these circumstances they are also likely to release toxic fumes. 

The US Department of Transport’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has already called for new regulations on the air transportation of lithium ion cells, including for them to be stowed in a crew-accessible location or shipped in an FAA-approved container or a Class C cargo compartment.