Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lithium as Air Freight Restricted to Cargo Aircraft from January

IATA Publishes Risk Mitigation Guide
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – We have written several pieces regarding the safe transport of lithium – ion batteries by air, pointing out the high number of unexplained incidents when fire has occurred during carriage, and of course there was the infamous case of the smoking Boeing Dreamliner’s which we examined in some depth last year. Now the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has published the first edition of its Lithium Battery Risk Mitigation Guidance for Operators, a free online guide designed to outline potential strategies both cargo and passenger airlines may wish to consider when transporting lithium batteries.

In order to mitigate the risks associated with the transport of the batteries by air, IATA has set out a series of strategies which are primarily directed at an airline’s internal processes and procedures, although there is added guidance for engaging with other entities in the supply chain, such as manufacturers of lithium batteries as well as shippers and freight forwarders.

Lithium batteries have become the preferred energy source to power a wide variety of consumer goods ranging from mobile phones to children’s toys to electric bikes. Though widely used, most people are not aware that lithium batteries have hidden dangers and can pose a safety risk if not prepared in compliance with the transport regulations. Kevin Hiatt, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Safety and Flight Operations, said:

“Lithium batteries are safe to transport provided that they are designed, tested, manufactured and packaged in accordance with the global transport safety standards. Developed with the input of leading industry groups specialised in the area of handling potentially dangerous goods, the Lithium Battery Risk Mitigation Guidance for Operators represents an invaluable source of reference. Whether on passenger or cargo aircraft, operators can now rely on this guide, which will be updated and expanded as needed.”

Because of the huge, worldwide demand for lithium batteries, billions of them are shipped annually in air cargo on both passenger and cargo aircraft. Volumes are expected to increase substantially over the coming years, with batteries becoming smaller and even more powerful. IATA estimates that, on some routes, lithium batteries are present in at least 25% of cargo shipments; but this figure only takes into account batteries that are known to be transported (i.e., those that have been declared to the operator).

Lithium metal batteries transported as cargo will be restricted to cargo aircraft only from January 1, 2015. The prohibition on the carriage on passenger aircraft only applies to lithium metal batteries when shipped by themselves, and does not apply to batteries packed with equipment or contained in equipment.

Photo: The world's largest salt flat, Bolivia's Uyuni, which contains an estimated 5.4 million tonnes of lithium.