UN bans lithium batteries as cargo on passenger planes

Passenger planes should be banned from carrying large numbers of lithium batteries as cargo, says a UN aviation watchdog. The International Civil Aviation Organisation says the ban is necessary because batteries can create intense fires that could destroy aircraft. The ban is scheduled to come into force on 1 April. Adoption of the ICAO decision is not compulsory but many countries do adopt the agency’s recommendations. The ban does not affect the batteries inside gadgets people take into the passenger cabins of planes. The ban will remain in place until at least 2018 when the ICAO is expected to conclude work on safe ways to pack and transport the batteries, said Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, president of the ICAO council. The Rechargeable Battery Association, which fought the ban, said its members were preparing to comply. It added that the transport restriction could lead to “significant disruption in the logistics supply chain”, especially for medical devices. While the majority of lithium-ion batteries are transported on cargo ships, about 30% are still delivered by air. Many travel in the holds of passenger aircraft rather than in dedicated cargo planes. A single cargo container can hold thousands of batteries. The US Federal Aviation Administration estimates that air carriers who transport batteries in bulk to the US also carry about 26 million passengers a year. Tests by aviation bodies have established that lithium-ion batteries can self-ignite and burn with a heat of about 600C – close to the melting point of the aluminium used in the superstructure of many aircraft. Separate tests have also established that overheated batteries can give off fumes that, if they build up, can lead to explosions that knock out onboard fire suppression systems letting the fires burn uncontrolled. The tests led Boeing and Airbus to declare in 2015 that continuing to ship lithium-ion batteries in bulk was “an unacceptable risk”.

BBC News, 23 February 2016 ;http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health ;