Air industry asks for help making lithium battery transport safer

by Emily Atkins

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on governments to make the transportation of lithium batteries safer. It is asking them to develop and enact global standards for screening, fire-testing, and incident information sharing. IATA says that with the rapid increase in global demand of lithium batteries – the market is growing 30 percent annually –  many new shippers are joining air cargo supply chains. This means that there is a growing risk of incidents of undeclared or mis-declared shipments.

Hazardous cargo

Lithium batteries are considered hazardous cargo because of their ability to overheat and catch fire if not handled properly. Between 2006 and June 2022, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported 373 lithium battery incidents aboard planes, both in the passenger and cargo compartments. This does not include three major accidents where lithium battery cargo shipments were implicated but not proven to be the source of the fire: An Asiana Airlines 747 near South Korea on July 28, 2011, a UPS 747 on September 3, 2010 and a UPS DC-8 in Philadelphia, PA on February 7, 2006.

IATA wants governments to step-up enforcement of safety regulation for the transport of lithium batteries. The association wants stiffer penalties for rogue shippers and the criminalization of egregious or willful offenses.

“Airlines, shippers, manufacturers, and governments all want to ensure the safe transport of lithium batteries by air. It’s a joint responsibility. The industry is raising the bar to consistently apply existing standards and share critical information on rogue shippers,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

“But there are some areas where the leadership of governments is critical. Stronger enforcement of existing regulations and the criminalization of abuses will send a strong signal to rogue shippers. And the accelerated development of standards for screening, information exchange, and fire containment will give the industry even more effective tools to work with.”

Certification

In 2021 it introduced a certification program – Center of Excellence for Independent Validators Lithium Batteries (CEIV Li-batt) – to improve the safe handling and transport of lithium batteries across the supply chain.

“Lithium batteries are critical power sources for many consumer goods on which we all rely. And it is vital that we can ship them safely by air either with finished products or as components in global supply chains. That’s why we developed the CEIV Lithium Battery certification. It gives shippers and airlines assurance that certified logistic companies operate to the highest safety and security standards when shipping lithium batteries,” Walsh said.

Standards and data

Now the association is requesting additional measures:

  • Development of specific standards and processes by governments to support the safe transport of lithium batteries, like those that exist for air cargo security, will help provide an efficient process for compliant shippers of lithium batteries.
  • Development and implementation of a fire-testing standard that addresses lithium battery fire containment, It would be aimed at assessing supplementary protection measures over and above the existing cargo compartment fire suppression systems.
  • Enhance safety data collection and sharing information between governments. Without sufficient relevant data there is little ability to understand the effectiveness of the measures introduced.

These measures would support significant initiatives by airlines, shippers, and manufacturers to ensure lithium batteries can be carried safely.