An ICAO panel has called for improved, fire-resistant packaging to ship lithium batteries, which pilots and plane makers say pose a fire risk.
The ICAO's dangerous goods panel agreed this week to set up a group of experts to develop safer packaging for the transport of lithium ion batteries used in phones and laptops.
The creation of the new group follows concerns by pilots and aircraft manufacturers that existing standards are not strong enough to contain a lithium battery fire. The new packaging standards would also apply to lithium metal batteries, which are used in watches and are banned on passenger planes globally.
A working group will consider proposals to improve packaging standards at an October meeting at the Montreal-based ICAO. If approved, they would be included in the 2017-2018 edition of its technical instructions for dangerous goods transport. "We think it's a significant step forward," said panel member Mark Rogers, of the Air Line Pilots Association.
Hazardous materials industry consultant Bob Richard, vice president for regulatory and government services for US-based Labelmaster Services, said new standards for packaging would be welcome if they are not prohibitively expensive.
Regulators still allow lithium ion batteries as cargo on both passenger and freight aircraft. Battery fires on planes are rare, but their transportation in bulk has recently raised concerns of fire risks, including mention in recent findings by the US FAA.
A March working paper found current firefighting systems on airliners could not "suppress or extinguish a fire involving significant quantities of lithium batteries."
More than a dozen carriers, including Cathay Pacific, American Airlines and Air China, have either restricted or banned the batteries on both passenger and cargo flights.
IATA will publish a new addendum this month identifying new restrictions announced by individual carriers for transporting the batteries.
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