Airlines carrying lithium batteries should take precautions with the cargo after a United Parcel Service Inc. plane carrying a large quantity of the items caught fire and crashed, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Carriers should store bulk shipments of the batteries in sections of a plane equipped with fire-suppression systems, the FAA said today in a safety alert. Airlines should ask customers to identify batteries on shipping forms and evaluate crew training for fires, the FAA said.
A UPS cargo plane that crashed in Dubai on Sept. 3 “did include large quantities of lithium batteries,” the alert said. FAA officials “believe it prudent to advise operators of that fact.”
The notice raises the possibility the lithium batteries played a role in the on-board fire before the crash of a 747-400 cargo plane that killed both pilots. The investigation into the accident hasn’t been completed.
Norman Black, a spokesman for Atlanta-based UPS, the world’s largest package-delivery company, declined to comment on the FAA statement that the plane carried lithium batteries.
Initial analysis of the plane’s on-board recorders showed a fire warning followed by smoke in the cockpit, the United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority said last month. The crew reported smoke 28 minutes after takeoff from Dubai on a flight to Cologne, Germany, the GCAA said.
The crew returned to the airport rather than accept an offer from Bahrain Air Traffic Control to land at Doha International Airport in Qatar, about 240 miles from Dubai, and then experienced cockpit-visibility and communication problems, the GCAA has said.
Captain Doug Lampe of Louisville, Kentucky, and First Officer Matthew Bell of Sanford, Florida, died in the crash, UPS has said.
Lithium metal, or non-rechargeable, batteries “are highly flammable and capable of ignition,” the FAA said in the alert. Suppression measures used in many cargo compartments “is ineffective” in controlling such fires, the FAA said.
FedEx Corp., the world’s biggest cargo carrier, requires customers to seek airline approval when shipping non-rechargeable batteries, Sandra Munoz, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. Severe fines should be imposed on shippers who don’t follow federal rules or declare shipments, she said.
The FAA’s safety recommendations echo calls by safety advocates for additional protections in the transportation of the batteries that power mobile phones and laptop computers.
Batteries triggered fire, smoke or heat aboard aircraft 13 times from February 2001 to July 2007, the National Transportation Safety Board said in 2008. A UPS plane was destroyed in February 2006 in Philadelphia after a fire probably began in containers storing electronic equipment, the NTSB concluded in 2008.
While the board couldn’t determine the cause of the 2006 fire, the incident prompted scrutiny of lithium battery risks.