Lithium battery cargo poses ‘catastrophic’ risk on planes, warns FAA
The FAA is also issuing guidance to the organization’s own inspectors to help them determine whether the airlines have adequately assessed the risk of handling and carrying lithium batteries as cargo. FAA battery fire testing has highlighted the potential risk of a catastrophic aircraft loss due to damage resulting from a lithium battery fire or explosion.
Current cargo fire suppression systems cannot effectively control a lithium battery fire. As a result of those tests, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus have advised airlines about the dangers associated with carrying lithium batteries as cargo and also have encouraged them to conduct safety risk assessments.
Hazardous materials rules currently ban passenger airlines from carrying lithium-metal batteries as cargo. In addition, a number of large commercial passenger airlines have decided voluntarily not to carry rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries. The safety risk assessment process is designed to identify and mitigate risks for the airlines that still carry lithium batteries and to help those that don’t carry them from inadvertently accepting them for transport.
The FAA’s Safety Alert For Operators (SAFO) encourages airlines that previously conducted safety assessments to re-evaluate them in light of new evidence from the agency’s recent lithium battery fire tests. Last week a UN panel recommended banning cargo shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries from passenger airliners because they can create fires capable of destroying planes (see "Ban Li-ion battery shipments on passenger planes, says UN").
The International Civilian Aviation Organisation’s air navigation commission has also proposed that the ban should be lifted if new packaging could be developed that provided an acceptable level of safety.
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