ICAO Standards Weak On Shipping Lithium Batteries By Aircraft
By Eddy Metcalf
April 18, 2011 - In a statement submitted to a
Congressional subcommittee, the Air Line Pilots
Association, Int’l (ALPA), underscored the serious
threat that mishandled or improperly packaged lithium
battery shipments can pose to aviation safety and made
clear that the solution rests in fully regulating them
as hazardous materials.
“While paint and dry ice shipments aboard aircraft are
currently regulated as dangerous goods, shipments of
lithium batteries are not, despite the aircraft
incidents and fires linked to the unsafe shipment of
these batteries, and their ability to self-ignite when
improperly packaged or mishandled,” said Capt. Lee Moak,
Lithium-ion batteries are generally rechargeable and are
used to power everyday items such as cell phones and
laptops. Lithium-metal batteries are usually not
rechargeable and serve as a power source for watches,
flashlights, and digital cameras.
Lithium-ion batteries are generally rechargeable and are used to power everyday items such as cell phones and laptops. Lithium-metal batteries are usually not rechargeable and serve as a power source for watches, flashlights, and digital cameras.
its statement to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads,
Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, ALPA warned that both types
of lithium batteries can spontaneously catch fire, emitting
sparks, flames, and large amounts of smoke. If packaged or
handled inappropriately, the batteries can self-ignite and, once
ignited, the fire can quickly spread from battery to battery and
be extremely difficult to extinguish.
Since 2004, ALPA has advocated that, to ensure aviation safety,
lithium battery shipments must be fully regulated. This would
include meeting enhanced marking, labeling, and packaging
requirements; conducting employee training; and notifying the
pilot-in-command that these shipments are aboard the aircraft.
ALPA is not calling for new restrictions on what passengers are
permitted to bring aboard airliners.
“While the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements serve as a regulatory foundation, they don’t go far enough in ensuring the safe transport of lithium batteries as cargo,” continued Capt. Moak. “The gaps that result seriously threaten the safety of airline passengers, crews, cargo, and even individuals on the ground who could be harmed in an incident.”
For years, ALPA has urged that
- Mandating notification of the pilot-in-command that lithium batteries
are being transported. Knowing that hazardous materials are aboard the
aircraft can affect pilots’ decisions, including which airport to choose
in an emergency diversion and what information to provide so that first
responders are prepared with equipment necessary to fight a fire on
- Limiting the total quantity of lithium batteries permitted to be
shipped aboard a single aircraft. While the number of batteries per
shipping package is limited, there is no limit to the number of packages
that may be shipped aboard a single aircraft.
- Restricting lithium battery shipments to specific cargo compartments.
Lithium ion batteries are proven to respond favorably to the Halon
system in a Class C cargo compartment. The batteries need to be fully
regulated to ensure they are loaded only in cargo compartments that are
equipped with the most effective fire suppression systems.
- Banning shipment of lithium-metal batteries on all aircraft. While the
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) banned
shipments of lithium-metal batteries on passenger aircraft in 2004, such
batteries are still allowed on cargo aircraft.
- Requiring dangerous-goods labels. A dangerous-goods label requirement
would increase awareness on the part of the ground personnel who load
and unload aircraft and potentially reduce the likelihood that damaged
shipments would be loaded on aircraft.
- Mandating training for lithium battery shippers and handlers. Safety
would be enhanced by raising awareness among shippers and providing
training on the safe handling of lithium batteries. With regulatory
training requirements, lithium battery shippers, handlers, and
facilities would be subject to oversight and inspection to ensure that
training and packaging provisions are met.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to safeguard air transportation from the known danger posed by lithium battery shipments and to set the standard for the world,” concluded Capt. Moak.
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