Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The new lithium-ion battery ban on passenger aircraft as cargo

Nikon camera batteryLithium based batteries on commercial passenger aircraft have been regulated since 2008. That year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) banned spare lithium based batteries from passengers' checked luggage.

At the end of last month, the US DOT formalized what U.S. based commercial passenger air carriers already had been doing. They banned the “transport of lithium-ion cells or batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft.” ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) had called for the ban since February, 2016.

ICAO proposed the ban as a result of tests designed to determine the effectiveness of onboard fire suppression systems on lithium-ion battery fires in commercial aircraft cargo holds. The tests were conducted by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and ICAO in 2015. In each test, the fire suppression system failed to stop lithium-ion battery fires.

The February, 2015 FAA test that took place inside of a pressurized hull was especially troublesome.

Aircraft fire suppression systems use Halon to put out cargo hold fires. While Halon systems quickly put out typical fires, the tests showed the systems are incapable of putting out fires from lithium-ion batteries in thermal overload. In the FAA test, the batteries exploded despite the fire suppression system activation and caused a rapid increase in pressure in the plane that engineers said could be catastrophic for an aircraft in flight.

While the US DOT ban should have been instituted three years ago at the recommendation of ICAO, it's nonetheless welcome now.

With the US DOT ban of lithium-ion battery cargo in commercial passenger aircraft, passengers are asking for clarification of how it directly affects them.

The new rule significantly helps ensure passenger safety, but it doesn't affect what or how many lithium-ion batteries passengers may or may not bring on board their flights. The ban only affects batteries carried in aircraft holds as cargo.

The governing regulations for passengers flying on U.S. commercial passenger aircraft are in US DOT, 49 CFR, Sec. 175.10. The regulations are unchanged by the new US DOT ban. In their online “Pack Safe” document, the FAA details the lithium-ion battery rules for passengers flying on commercial passenger aircraft.

The regulations define limits for on-board lithium metal and lithium-ion batteries based on their capacity, whether they are installed in devices or are spares and where they will be stowed on the plane.

Here's a summary of the lithium metal and lithium-ion battery regulations for passengers aboard commercial passenger aircraft.

In checked luggage:

• Equipment, such as laptop computers, cellphones, tablets, watches and cameras with lithium-ion batteries with a capacity of 100 watt hours or less per battery installed, may be packed in checked luggage. (E-cigarettes and vaporizers are prohibited in checked luggage.)

• Equipment with lithium metal, non-rechargeable batteries, containing two grams or less of lithium per battery installed, may be packed in checked luggage.

• Equipment containing lithium-ion batteries with a capacity larger than 100 watt hours, but no more than 160 watt hours may be packed in checked luggage, but only with airline approval.

• Spare lithium-ion or lithium metal batteries of any size are not permitted in checked luggage.

In carry-on luggage and belongings:

• Equipment with lithium-ion and lithium metal batteries installed that are permitted in checked luggage are also permitted in carry-on luggage and belongings. Equipment containing lithium-ion batteries with a capacity larger than 100 watt hours, but no more than 160 watt hours may be packed in carry-on luggage, but like those packed in checked luggage, only with airline approval.

• Spare lithium-ion batteries with a capacity of 100 watt hours or less and lithium metal batteries containing two grams or less of lithium per battery may be packed in carry-on luggage, without limitation on how many are packed, as long as they are for personal use and protected from damage and short circuit.

• Spare lithium-ion batteries with a capacity larger than 100 watt hours, but no more than 160 watt hours may be packed in carry-on luggage, but are limited to only two per passenger. They must be protected from damage and short circuits.

Smart luggage:

• Smart luggage uses lithium-ion batteries to power its components and recharge other batteries. U.S. airlines have banned smart luggage with non-removable batteries and treat the batteries as spares under US DOT regulations. The batteries must be removed before the luggage may be checked-in, brought in carry-ons and protected from damage and short circuits.

Passenger Best practices:

Due to the restrictions that seriously limit their usefulness, I can't recommend travelers purchase smart luggage.

It's important to realize that airlines won't accept liability or reimburse passengers for the loss of valuables and breakables such as cameras, laptop computers and tablets under their contracts of carriage that govern the relationship between passengers and the airlines. Therefore, even though these devices with lithium based batteries may be packed in checked luggage, it's better to pack them in carry-on bags due to the increased likelihood of their theft, loss or damage in checked luggage.

Extend the ban:

The ban on lithium-ion batteries in commercial passenger aircraft holds, whether as cargo or passengers' spares, makes sense. Continuing to permit passengers' devices with installed lithium-ion batteries in checked luggage defeats the ban's purpose. US DOT must extend the ban to include those devices.

1 comment:

Jon-Denver said...

Thanks for the details on what we should be doing with our batteries, cameras, tablets, laptops, etc. when we fly.

You're right about extending the ban. It should be done immediately.

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