Airline Industry Seeks Crackdown on ‘Rogue’ Battery Shipments

  • IATA, battery manufacturers seek safety, quality enforcement
  • Groups see risk of battery ban extended to cargo carriers

The world’s main airline trade groups and European and U.S. lithium battery makers are seeking tighter product-quality and sourcing enforcement, saying a ban on shipments in passenger airliners risks being extended to cargo carriers.

Governments need to enforce regulations more strictly against “rogue producers and exporters,” and impose stiffer penalties on companies that put shipments of improperly tested batteries on cargo aircraft, the International Air Transport Association, International Air Cargo Association and three manufacturers’ or shipping lobbies said Monday in a joint statement.

“We’ve had regulations in place for a long time, and they’re regularly strengthened but the frustration is the failure of some states to step in and enforce the regulations,” said Dave Brennan, an assistant director at IATA for cargo safety and standards, said by phone from the group’s Geneva headquarters. In some countries, manufacturing is outpacing overseers’ ability to check standards, while some nations’ aviation authorities lack the legal means to impose fines without going to court, he said.

Growth of worldwide shipments of lithium-ion batteries, which power devices such as smartphones, laptops and toys, is projected to average 20 percent annually for the next decade or so after reaching about $16 billion last year. Three freighter blazes have been linked to lithium battery shipments, including the crash of a Boeing Co. 747 freighter in Dubai in 2010 that killed two United Parcel Service pilots.

ICAO Move

The United Nations’ air-industry regulator, the International Civil Aviation Organization, banned any shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries as cargo on passenger planes earlier this year, following a warning in mid-2015 by aircraft manufacturers Boeing Co. and Airbus Group SE. The interim prohibition is in force while ICAO works on a new lithium-battery package-performance standard, expected by 2018. Non-rechargeable versions were already banned in 2004.

While smaller incidents involving lithium ion batteries must be reported to civil aviation regulators, both in the country where the airline is registered, and in the country from which the shipment came, they’re not necessarily publicized, IATA’s Brennan said.

“Airlines don’t necessarily tell us: they tend to be fairly reluctant at sharing the information,”’ he said. “They don’t want anything out in the public arena suggesting they carry dangerous goods, even though the blame isn’t with the airline itself.”

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