Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Carriage of e-cigarettes Banned as Lithium Battery Fires Persist

US Authorities Institute Mandatory Safety Procedures
Shipping News Feature
US – WORLDWIDE – The doubt and confusion regarding the carriage of lithium batteries aboard aircraft has taken another twist with the announcement from US authorities that the carriage of battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices in checked baggage is now not permissible. The move comes in response to recent smoke and fire incidents involving e-cigarettes in passenger baggage, following on from a history of problems involving both freight and passenger flights, something we have been writing about for over five years.

An ‘interim final rule’ has been made by the US Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandating no electronic devices such as e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-pipes, personal vaporizers, electronic nicotine delivery systems etc. to be carried in checked baggage. Carriage of these items in ‘carry on’ baggage is to continue however.

Only in the US could such a measure be called an ‘interim final rule’, surely a contradiction in terms, however this sensible step has been made necessary by numerous recent incidents involving the products, plus the need to harmonise the Hazardous Materials Regulations with a recent addendum to the 2015-2016 International Civilian Aviation Organization (ICAO) ‘Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air’, which became effective this June.

After the scares involving three flights which caused the deaths of four crew in 2006/2010/2011 and then again the problems with the newly released Boeing Dreamliner, the discord which arose over the carriage of lithium-ion and lithium-metal batteries between the US Department of Transport and the International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) seems to have faded, with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) subsequently issuing guidelines to operators to mitigate risk.

As well as the most serious incidents it is the plethora of minor ones which have spurred the authorities into action. Fires in several US airports including Boston and Los Angeles in the past few months, directly linked to the carriage of e-cigarettes causing combustion, made the matter of control unavoidable. The problem is exacerbated by counterfeit batteries, widely sold on the internet and often the cause of problems including flammability.

With the rapid uptake of ‘vaping’ devices, such as e-cigarettes, and their technical development, the problems have become more diverse than most people will be aware of. There is not one single type of battery cell involved here but dozens of variants. Firstly the equipment may utilise single use or rechargeable cells. They may be manual or automatic, manual means the user presses a button to take a drag, automatics have sensors which react with a change of pressure and deliver the dose of whatever the device is charged with. Some are variable voltage and many suppliers, whilst telling how safe their products are, advise not to charge the batteries overnight or in an unoccupied dwelling.

Photo: UPS Flight 1307 burnt out at Philadelphia 2006. This incident prompted the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to recommend lithium-ion batteries ‘be transported in crew-accessible locations where portable fire suppression systems can be used’. Courtesy of NTSB