24 February 2016

Problems with Lithium Batteries Persist as Air Freight Ban Introduced  

New ICAO Safety Measure Sees Prohibition as Cargo on Passenger Flights

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Shipping News Feature WORLDWIDE – The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Governing Council has adopted a new aviation safety measure prohibiting, on an interim basis, all shipments of lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft. The prohibition of lithium-ion cargo shipments on passenger aircraft has been eagerly awaited by industry associations, with long-time advocates, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), welcoming the move to mitigate what it has previously called the ‘most pressing hazmat safety issue’ in the aviation community. Regular readers will remember the associations made previously between fires on board freight aircraft carrying lithium batteries.

In addition there were the problems with the Boeing Dreamliner, an aircraft designed around the use of lithium batteries which suffered teething problems with battery fires, something solved later by simply securing the aircrafts batteries within a metal box. In January 2015 IATA published a risk mitigation guide for aircraft carrying the batteries and in October that same year the carriage of vaping devices and similar products were banned by US authorities in checked baggage. Of the new measures Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, ICAO Council President said:

“Safety is always our most fundamental priority in international civil aviation. This interim prohibition will continue to be in force as separate work continues through ICAO on a new lithium battery packaging performance standard, currently expected by 2018.”

The Council’s decision will be effective 1 April, 2016. It pertains only to lithium-ion batteries shipped as cargo on passenger aircraft, and not to those contained in personal electronic devices carried by passengers or crew. It comes subsequent to extensive reviews undertaken by the ICAO Air Navigation Commission, and the UN agency’s Dangerous Goods, Flight Operations, and Airworthiness panels. ALPA welcomed the temporary restriction, saying:

“We are pleased that ICAO supports ALPA’s long-held position that the shipment of lithium-ion batteries by air poses a significant safety risk on passenger flights, but more needs to be done to address the situation of bulk shipments of lithium-metal and lithium-ion batteries on cargo aircraft. US cargo airlines haul the bulk of lithium batteries to North America, and the important ICAO dangerous goods safe transport requirements are exempted from these bulk shipments. This is where the safety risk remains.

“ALPA supports the continued development of a long-term plan that would allow safe shipment on all aircraft, but the shipments on cargo airlines must be addressed. If ICAO truly wants to make an impact, then it must deal with lithium battery shipments on cargo aircraft or at the very least, reverse the exemptions that accept these shipments from being fully regulated as dangerous goods.

Photo: Looking more like the scene from a nuclear explosion this was the result of the devastating fire aboard a UPS cargo aircraft which landed at Dubai airport in 2010. Lithium batteries being transported were a confirmed contributory factor and the accident resulted in the deaths of Captain Doug Lampe, 48, and First Officer Matthew Bell, 38.

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