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ICAO Bans Lithium-ion Battery Shipments by Passenger Airlines

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ICAO Bans Lithium-ion Battery Shipments by Passenger Airlines

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has banned the shipment of lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft while it develops a new packaging standard for the rechargeable batteries used in many consumer devices. But the ban failed to quiet industry concerns about the potential of lithium batteries to cause in-flight fires, since it does not affect cargo airlines.

In a February 22 announcement, ICAO said its 36-nation governing council adopted the ban on an interim basis, following “extensive reviews” by its Air Navigation Commission and dangerous goods, flight operations and airworthiness panels. Effective on April 1, the prohibition applies to bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries on passenger aircraft, but not to the consumer devices used by passengers or crew. Many passenger airlines have already opted not to accept such shipments.

Safety is always our most fundamental priority in international civil aviation,” said Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu of Nigeria, the ICAO Council president. “This interim prohibition will continue to be in force as separate work continues through ICAO on a new lithium battery packaging performance standard, currently expected by 2018.”

The action by the United Nations aviation agency comes as the U.S. Congress is considering legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. An amendment that would roll back a 2012 measure preventing the FAA from enforcing stricter regulations on lithium batteries than those imposed by ICAO recently failed to pass the House Transportation Committee.

Earlier this month, the FAA issued a safety alert for operators (Safo) recommending they conduct a safety risk assessment of transporting various types of lithium batteries. “Before operators engage in the transport of lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft, or lithium-ion or lithium metal batteries on cargo aircraft, be aware that ICAO and major airframe manufacturers (Boeing and Airbus) have recommended that operators perform safety risk assessments in order to establish whether, or how, they can manage the risk associated with the transport of these batteries. The FAA strongly supports these recommendations,” the Safo states.

The Air Line Pilots Association (Alpa), the largest union representing airline pilots in the U.S. and Canada, welcomed the ICAO declaration, but said “more needs to be done” to address bulk shipments of lithium-ion and lithium metal batteries by cargo airlines.

U.S. cargo airlines haul the bulk of lithium batteries to North America—and the important ICAO dangerous goods safe transport requirements are exempted from these bulk shipments,” Alpa said in a press release. “If ICAO truly wants to make an impact, then it must deal with lithium battery shipments on cargo aircraft or at the very least, reverse the exemptions that except these shipments from being fully regulated as dangerous goods.”

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