PHOTO: A lithium-ion battery. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Of the many executive orders that President Donald Trump signed in the wake of his Jan. 20 inauguration, one flew under the radar but could have significant repercussions in the aviation industry.
According to the Associated Press, Trump signed an executive order freezing the publication of new regulations. That means, no safety rules can be implemented on the shipments of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries on passenger planes. The Obama administration had been pursuing such a regulation since the batteries can self-ignite and cause a fire, but handed it off to the Trump administration.
Trump signed the executive order putting the freeze on publication of new regulations as part of a “push to ease what he sees as red tape holding back the economy,” the AP noted.
The International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency that sets global aviation safety standards, decided last year to ban bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries on international passenger flights. On cargo flights, the batteries can be charged to no more than 30 percent, a level that may reduce the likelihood of fires.
As a result, countries around the world have been adopting the new international standard for domestic flights as well.
Except the United States.
"This is part of our ongoing regulatory review," the Transportation Department told the AP in a statement. "The safe movement of hazardous materials remains a priority. We will provide updates as soon as decisions are made with regard to these and other issues at hand."
READ MORE: UN Bans Lithium Ion Batteries as Cargo on Passenger Flights
Rechargeable batteries are used in consumer products ranging from cellphones to laptops, typical items brought on a plane. But if they self-ignite or are overcharged, the fires can burn up to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit—close enough to the melting point of the aluminum used in aircraft construction.
Extending the international ban to domestic flights is "a matter of life and death," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the House transportation committee's senior Democrat and an advocate of banning air shipments of batteries, told the AP.
"If we don't start following the ICAO guidelines and stop stuffing giant boxes of lithium batteries that are fully charged into passenger aircraft, sooner or later we're going to kill a lot of people. When something is this critical that it will take down an airplane, voluntary compliance with a non-existent rule is not adequate."