March 10, 2015
Shipments ban for lithium batteries sought while fire safety still an issue
For a number of years here have been concerns over the potential for lithium ion batteries to ignite and cause a fire onboard planes. This includes batteries used in mobile phones. However last year there were a number of incidents involving lithium batteries, notably a fire discovered by baggage handlers on a Boeing 737-800 moments before the flight was due to leave Melbourne airport for Fiji. The source was identified as coming from one of four bags belonging to one passenger. The passenger was aware that lithium ion batteries had to be declared and brought onto the plane as hand luggage. However despite declaring he had no other batteries, even after the fire, 25 lithium ion batteries were found in his cargo luggage, including six batteries which were destroyed in the fire.
Lithium ion batteries generate considerable heat when short circuited, and it is this which causes major problems, especially when packed in close proximity. Since 2009 there have been 26 instances of lithium batteries catching fire aboard US airline planes. In January 2013, two lithium-ion batteries made by, Japan’s GS Yuasa Corp for the Boeing 787’s electrical system overheated and subsequently prompted a three-month grounding of the planes. A different type of battery that burns more fiercely, a non-rechargeable lithium metal cell, caught fire in London onboard a Boeing Dreamliner. The battery was used to power the Honeywell International emergency locator transmitter.
The ban, which has been called for by aircraft manufacturers, is also backed by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA), who represent over 100,000 pilots. Part of the problem is caused by poor packaging, allowing multiple battery shorts, and the release of gases which are highly inflammable. Manufacturers, including Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier, are backed by the International Coordination Council of Aerospace Industry Associations (ICCAIA), which has requested stronger packaging and stricter handling regulations for lithium ion and lithium metal battery shipments carried on cargo planes.
According to Associated Press, US airlines Delta and United have recently stopped accepting rechargeable battery shipments.