Air Line Pilots Association Calls for Temporary Ban on Li-ion and Li-metal Battery Shipments on Airliners
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is calling on the US government to prohibit shipments of lithium-ion and lithium-metal batteries on passenger and all-cargo aircraft until new regulations are in place to ensure the safe transport of these materials.
In an August 20, 2009, letter sent to Cynthia Douglass, acting deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), ALPA’s President, Capt. John Prater, pointed to three recent incidents as proof of the need to prohibit lithium battery shipments.
During just the past two months, fire, smoke, or evidence of fire associated with battery shipments has occurred aboard three separate US airliners. The incidents, which took place in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Honolulu, Hawaii were similar to a 2006 battery fire aboard a DC-8 in Philadelphia, Pa. In that accident, the fire was severe and it prompted the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to recommend the full regulation of these types of batteries as dangerous goods.
The incidents involved e-cigarettes, each containing a rechargeable Li-ion battery; Li-ion cell phone batteries; and a Li-ion pack for an electric bicycle.
Since the 2006 incident, the letter stated, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has documented 26 additional incidents involving lithium-ion and lithium-metal batteries in air transportation.
ALPA has long advocated for improved transport requirements for lithium-ion and lithium-metal batteries. Since 2004, ALPA has urged the Department of Transportation to fully regulate these batteries as dangerous goods, including requiring appropriate packaging, labeling, marking, testing, and pilot notification. ALPA has also asked that the ban of bulk shipments of lithium-metal batteries on passenger aircraft be extended to all-cargo aircraft until packaging standards can be developed.
At the May 14th, 2009 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, in response to questioning from Chairman Oberstar, you [Cynthia Douglass] indicated that rulemaking was being drafted to improve lithium battery safety, including fully regulating lithium batteries as dangerous goods. We certainly endorse and support the development of this rulemaking and look forward to commenting on the proposed rule. However, it is clear from these recent, ongoing incidents that decisive action to safeguard aviation should not be withheld until the rulemaking process concludes. We have been most fortunate that the lithium-ion battery malfunctions noted above did not cause an accident, but luck is not a sound safety strategy.—ALPA letter
ALPA is not calling for new restrictions on what passengers are permitted to bring aboard aircraft. Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilots union, representing nearly 53,500 pilots at 36 airlines in the United States and Canada.