Air cargo carriers may benifit
In early April the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) recommended the ban of all lithium metal batteries on passenger airlines. Certified Hazmat Air Cargo Carriers may benefit from tightened regulations and greater oversight of transporting potentially dangerous goods by air.
The DGP cites a risk of fire that cannot be adequately addressed by current fire suppression standards, stated in a DGP working paper from the week of April 7th. The Air Navigation Commission (ANC) and Council has yet to ratify or accept this proposal, though it is expected to do so at its meetings in May and June.
If the DGP’s proposal is enacted, lithium battery cargo on passenger planes will be prohibited as of January 1, 2015.
Lithium batteries have presented a challenge to fire suppression and airline safety systems for over a decade. ICAO’s recommendation comes after years of assessment of the hazards presented by lithium batteries, and the recording of numerous fires and accidents related to the batteries.
In 1999 a lithium-ion battery fire occurred at Los Angeles International Airport that came to be known within the airline industry as the LAX incident. During this fire, pallets of mishandled and abused lithium battery cargo caught fire and LAX safety officials were unable to control the blaze with fire suppression equipment at hand.
“Ultimately, the lithium battery transport systems should operate based upon a respect for the highly energetic materials used in lithium batteries,” warned Michael D. Farrington in a 2001 review of the LAX incident for the Journal of Power Sources.
Since Farrington’s 2001 cautionary report, however, lithium batteries have presented repeated dire issues for the air transport industry.
Chris Glaeser, Director of Global Safety for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said in a 2013 industry conference that lithium batteries are “Potentially a factor in the loss of 3 cargo aircraft” from 2006 to 2011, including the loss of a UPS 747 in Dubai in 2010 that was carrying an estimated 90,000 lithium batteries of multiple types.
At the same 2013 air transport industry conference, Cathay Pacific Airlines General Manager of Corporate Safety Richard Howell said that the half-dozen known lithium battery fires at airports in 2012 were “the tip of the iceberg and a very real risk that is getting bigger and bigger all the time.”
This risk comes as industry estimates that China produced approximately four billion lithium batteries in 2012 alone, representing an increase of 30% over 2011. Airline industry officials are reporting increased prevalence of individuals improperly packaging and shipping lithium battery cargo overseas, resulting in potential battery rupture, ignition, and uncontrollable fire.
Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration’s testing has shown that, even with proper packaging and shipment, the stowing of other electronics or heat sources on passenger airlines can still present an unacceptable hazard to lithium battery containment.
ICAO argues that the passenger airline cargo ban would increase awareness of the risks associated with the batteries and would then allow for more appropriate enforcement of legal restrictions. The DGP concluded its recommendation in its April 7th working paper that “the transport of lithium metal batteries on passenger aircraft posed an unacceptable risk under existing circumstances on the basis that the likelihood of an event occurring was remote but the severity of the consequence of the event would be catastrophic.”
ICAO plans to review the safety and shipment of lithium battery cargo on freighter airlines separately.