Lithium-ion battery air shipments face scrutiny in US

There have long been safety fears over bulk lithium-ion air shipments Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption There have long been safety fears over bulk lithium-ion air shipments

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said shipments of lithium-ion batteries on planes should be restricted due to safety fears.

Lithium-ion batteries should be physically separated from flammable hazardous material, the NTSB said.

It also wants to limit the quantity of such batteries, used to power many portable devices, allowed as cargo.

A US senator is now calling for authorities to be able to ban lithium-ion batteries from aircraft.

The NTSB said gadget batteries could be "a fire and explosion ignition source", "a source of fuel to an existing fire" and "subjected to overheating that can create an explosive condition."

The updated advice follows an investigation into a fire on an Asiana Airlines cargo plane in 2011.

Two crew members died when the plane, which was carrying lithium-ion batteries, then crashed into the Korea Strait.

NTSB chairman Christopher A Hart said the body's recommendations would "reduce the likelihood and severity of potential cargo fires" and "provide additional time for the crew to safely land a cargo aircraft in the event a fire is detected".

'Catastrophic' risk

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also said this week there was "potential risk of a catastrophic aircraft loss" due to damage resulting from a lithium-ion battery fire.

Current procedures for dealing with cargo fires on planes were incapable of controlling a lithium-ion battery blaze, the FAA added.

The FAA arrived at these conclusions following testing of lithium-ion batteries and methods to extinguish fires caused by them.

US senator Bill Nelson now plans to introduce legislation that would allow the FAA to ban lithium-ion shipments.

"If FAA testing has found that fires or explosions caused by lithium-ion batteries can lead to a catastrophic loss of an airplane, then why on Earth would anyone want to prohibit safety regulators from banning large shipments of these batteries on passenger airliners," Mr Nelson told news site The Hill.

The Air Line Pilots Association has also suggested the FAA should have greater powers to restrict lithium-ion shipments.

Any new regulations would not apply to individual batteries contained in devices carried by air passengers.

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