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3/8/2016 - UN Lithium Battery Cargo Ban

Below is the “headline” of the recent edit from the United Nations on lithium batteries which will greatly impact our membership‘s abilities to serve customers requesting expedited shipments that contain lithium batteries:

A total ban of lithium batteries –whether packed separately or within devices – to be transported as cargo within passenger airplanes.

On February 22 The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is the United Nations aviation policy body, banned all cargo shipments of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries from the bellies of passenger airliners until sometime in 2018. The ICAO announcement was not anticipated by many within the cargo industry; however, there has been strong pressure for such action from pilot, passenger and other aviation groups for a long period of time.

Thus beginning next month (April), passenger carriers world-wide will be effectively barred from carrying lithium–ion rechargeable battery cargo. Note that – despite some rumors to the contrary – this ban does not contain any exemptions based upon wattage.

Many larger airlines have already voluntarily instituted this rule on lithium batteries, but the agency’s action ensures that national regulators will now enforce the prohibition across the board. The decision by ICAO’s 36-member council, the Montreal-based agency’s top policy group, also is expected to promote ongoing efforts to further restrict bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries by cargo carriers. The cargo carriers are already instituting tougher new standards for their transport of lithium batteries. Click on the link below to see the DHL policies on lithium batteries.

ICAO said the interim ban will remain in force at least until 2018, by which time the U.N. agency expects to adopt tough new packaging standards intended to reduce the risks of fires or explosions caused by the power cells.

Similar to earlier moves by U.S. regulators to ban certain types of lithium batteries as cargo from passenger aircraft, Monday’s decision won’t have any impact on batteries or portable electronic devices containing power cells carried on board by passengers.

The science cited by proponents of the ban point to laboratory tests which have shown that modern jetliner designs cannot cope with the intense heat and explosions that can result when relatively few lithium batteries overheat. Such fires can occur when lithium batteries are packed tightly together, and they can overheat or experience short circuits if they are damaged. And they also point to at least two airplane crashes where lithium battery fires were suspected (though not definitely found) as the causal factor.

In the US the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration recently issued a strongly worded safety alert indicating that typical fire-suppression systems on jetliners using halon gas are “incapable of preventing” explosions caused by lithium batteries. Battery maker advocates have strongly resisted a ban rules and maintained the dangers were overblown by industry critics. More recently however, the main trade group has shown a greater willingness to compromise.

The Rechargeable Battery Association (RBA) – the most powerful Washington group opposing the ban - said the decision was expected and “our members are preparing to comply with these new regulations even with the extremely tight deadline.” But the association warned about “significant disruption in the logistics supply chain,” especially for batteries powering medical devices often shipped to remote locations on passenger airliners. However it is fair to say that even the RBA realized that this was coming and was unstoppable.

The first order of business from the XLA standpoint is to participate and offer input within the regulatory discussions which will begin shortly on what safety precautions would allow these batteries to be permitted as cargo in the future. Packaging standards, fire retardancy, wattage, stowing techniques, storage temperature protections are all factors that could allow lithium batteries to be allowed once again as cargo on passenger airplanes. Unfortunately, there is no possibility that any quick fix is going to be approved in the next year or perhaps an even a longer time period.

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