An Update to Lithium-Ion Air Transport

Michael Ford

Michael Ford

Vice President, Government and Industry Affairs

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Department of Transportation issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) in the Federal Register on December 21, 2022, and will go into effect on January 20, 2023.

The safe transport of lithium batteries by air has been an ongoing concern due to the unique challenges they pose to safety in the air transportation environment. Unlike most other hazardous materials, lithium batteries have a dual hazard of chemical and electrical components. This combination of hazards, when involved in a fire, has the potential to create a scenario that exceeds the fire suppression capability of an aircraft and lead to a catastrophic failure of the aircraft.

 

This IFR is in alignment with the lithium battery transportation requirements with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Technical Instructions for the Safe Transportation of Dangerous Goods by Air. Lithium metal cells and batteries (UN3090) and lithium-ion cells and batteries (UN3480) are forbidden for transport as cargo aboard passenger-carrying aircraft. The outside of each package that contains lithium metal cells or batteries, transported in accordance with Packing Instruction 968, Section II or lithium-ion cells or batteries transported in accordance with Packing Instruction 965.

This updated rule amends the hazardous materials regulations (HMR; 49 CFR parts 171–180) to

  1. Prohibit the transport of lithium-ion cells and batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft.
  2. Require all lithiumioncells and batteries to be shipped at not more than a 30 percent state of charge (SOC) on cargo-only aircraft; and
  3. Limit the use of alternative provisions for smaller lithium cells or batteries to one package per consignment.

 

The IFR amendments predominately affected air carriers (both passenger and cargo-only) and shippers that offer lithium-ion cells and batteries for transport as cargo by aircraft. The IFR amendments neither restricted passengers or crew members from bringing electronic devices containing lithium cells or batteries aboard aircraft nor restricted the air transport of lithium-ion cells or batteries when packed with or contained in equipment.

The growing use of Lithium batteries in many of our use devices must bring about changes for the safe transport of these items to ensure safety of all parties involved in their transport.