Lithium batteries face tougher flight regulation

This year is likely to see more stringent safety regulations for shipping lithium batteries on planes, though there has been a mixed reaction about the concerns. However, the Civil Aviation Authority has told TechEye it is aware of the discussion.

Over 1 billion rechargeable batteries are made each year. While typically they are safe, faulty or overheated goods threaten to explode and can spark dangerous fires, particularly as they are packed tightly together on cargo shipments, the Wall Street Journal reports.

There were two freighter crashes since 2010 which were thought to be caused by lithium batteries, an Asiana Airlines plane and a Boeing 747 that crashed in the Pacific Ocean last year. While they were cargo flights, four pilots were killed. Air regulators warn that lithium cells have caused problems in at least 24 incidents on or around planes over the last three years – in the US alone – in cargo and carry-on bags.

As a result, the UN-affiliated International Civil Aviation Organisation will be adopting stricter shipping standards that will do away with loopholes that let some battery packages get around passing certain checks. 

Lithium batteries will becoming even more common as the trend in portable and mobile devices shows no signs of slowing. Pilot and industry regulatory groups are calling for further action, including from the Flight Safety Foundation and worker unions. However, the private lobby, such as the Rechargeable Battery Association, says that existing standards are enough and that more action should be taken to enforce the current regulations. The RBA represents companies producing over 70 percent of the world’s lithium batteries.

Speaking with TechEye, a spokesperson for the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority said that the group has “long-standing concerns over the carriage of loose lithium ion batteries”.

“The potential for these batteries to short circuit if not contained in original packaging or if their terminals have not been insulated is very real,” the spokesperson said.