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US Government bans lithium-ion batteries as cargo in passenger aircraft holds

01 March 2019

The US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) on February 27 prohibiting the transport of lithium ion cells or batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft. Devices with li-ion batteries for personal use will still be permitted in the cabin and hold.

The IFR also requires lithium ion cells and batteries to be shipped at not more than a 30% state of charge aboard cargo-only aircraft.

“PHMSA is enhancing passenger safety by permitting personal electronic devices onboard aircraft while ensuring cargo shipments of batteries are transported separately,” said PHMSA Administrator Howard Elliott.

The rule change will affect companies that rely on cargo-based flights to transport electronic devices. Rather than being set in a charged state and ready for use at the time of manufacture, devices that are transported by aircraft will have to be kept at a charge of 30% or less which means either devices will be supplied to consumers at a lower level of charge, or will have to be topped up on arrival before being shipped to customers or retailers. 

This initiative is designed to reduce the risk of fire breaking out on aircraft. The FAA told Reuters a battery fire could potentially exceed the capabilities of an aircraft's fire suppression system, which could lead to a catastrophic failure. 

The FAA logged 39 incidents relating to air cargo transportation between 2010 and 2013, 13 of which involved li-ion batteries that smoked, overheated, exploded, or caught fire, which should have been prevented under the new rules. The FAA also noted three incidents between 2007 and 2011 involving li-ion batteries in cargo, with the batteries determined to be either the cause or a major factor in making an onboard fire severe enough to cause the loss of three aircraft and the deaths of four people.

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