Last updated: 04:30 PM ET, Wed February 10 2016

FAA Tells Airlines to Reevaluate Lithium Ion Battery Dangers

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 10, 2016

FAA Tells Airlines to Reevaluate Lithium Ion Battery Dangers

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Lithium ion batteries have been in the news recently. There have been concerns about e-cigarettes and battery-powered hoverboards causing explosions or fires in airplane cargo holds. Now, the FAA has published an eye-opening call for even-stricter regulations. 

Most commercial airlines currently have some kind of lithium battery bans in place. Passengers are not allowed to carry extra batteries in their luggage or to put certain battery-powered devices in their suitcases. These policies were put in place following a previous warning from the FAA. 

The dangers are real

The new safety call widens the focus on the potential dangers of flying with lithium ion batteries to include the carrying of batteries in bulk as cargo. The FAA warning states: “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 language stops short of demanding an outright ban, but it does put pressure on commercial and cargo airlines to address the dangers associated with carrying these potentially flammable power sources. In essence, it puts the ball in airlines’ court and encourages them to act.  

READ MORE: FAA Warns Passengers About Lithium Batteries on Planes

Calls for stricter rules are getting louder

There have been incidents caused by lithium batteries in the past. The most notable was the grounding of Boeing’s Dreamliners in 2013 because of problems with batteries that were installed in the aircraft. Also, a cargo plane crash in South Korea in 2011 was blamed on a fire started by batteries. 

The FAA isn't the only group voicing concern. A UN aviation safety panel recently took a stand on this issue. They recommended a worldwide ban on carrying lithium batteries as cargo in all passenger jets. The subject may come up in the U.S. during debates about the new FAA legislation that is due for a vote at the end of March. A past bid to institute a battery ban failed to be approved by Congress. The timing of the current FAA warning could be a bid to make sure that the issue comes up again this time around.  

Current anti-fire systems are not enough

Airplanes do, of course, have fire suppression systems that are quite capable of handling certain types of flames. However, the FAA pointed to recent tests that showed that the current anti-fire setups were not capable of adequately controlling fires started by lithium ion batteries.    

The strong language of the FAA warning, coupled with the UN panel's report and recent fire tests could give an enhanced battery ban the momentum it needs to pass Congress or to be adopted by airlines. 


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