Boeing Warns Airlines of Fire Risk from Lithium-Ion Battery Shipments
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Aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing warned its passenger airline customers Friday that transporting bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries could cause a fire bad enough to completely destroy the aircraft, the Associated Press reported.
The Federal Aviation Administration also put out a statement which said via the AP that testing it has "conducted on the transport of lithium batteries has indicated that it presents a risk."
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder told the AP in an email that airlines around the world were urged not to haul the the batteries as cargo, "until safer methods of packaging and transport are established and implemented."
The AP said these types of rechargeable batteries are common in such electronic devices as cellphones, laptop computers and power tools. They are also a common sight in cargo holds on international flights.
FAA tests, as reported by the AP, revealed that when these types of batteries short-circuit, they emit highly flammable hydrogen and other gases. Ignition of these gases can cause an intense explosions and cause difficult-to-extinguish fires.
These tests also revealed that while a cargo hold’s halon fire suppression system could extinguish the initial flames from overheated batteries, it is unable to halt the battery from overheating and reigniting all over again.
The AP said it is typical for tens of thousands of batteries to be packed into a single shipping container. The worldwide battery industry is a vocal opponent of any new regulation, as many electronics manufacturers like the quick deliver an aircraft provides.
The International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, is attempting to put together new standards for packaging that can contain battery fires. If the group cannot create such packaging, aviation officials have said a formal proposal to ban bulk battery shipments from passenger planes will probably be put on the table at an ICAO meeting on dangerous cargo in October.
Meanwhile, aircraft manufacturers and the pilots themselves are speaking up about what they call "an unacceptable risk" of fire.
An industry position paper urging the ban of lithium-ion battery transport authored by the International Coordination Council of Aerospace Industry Associations has been making the rounds. Members of this council include Boeing, Airbus and other aircraft companies, and The International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations, an umbrella group for pilot unions, cast its lot in with the aircraft manufacturers with the paper.
So far, among carriers that are still accepting bulk battery shipments, there are some airlines that will not accept them, including Delta, United, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, British Airways and Cargolux.
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