Concern grows over danger of lithium-ion battery air freight

There is growing pressure on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to restrict air freight delivery of smart phones, after a UPS air freighter crashed in 2010. A number of other plane crashes have been attributed to phone batteries exploding mid air.

After four plane crashes associated with lithium ion batteries exploding whilst being flown from manufacturers to retailers, it has been shown that these batteries emit flammable gases that can ignite in a plane’s hold. On Wednesday however the ICAO voted against banning deliveries of batteries in aircraft holds in a meeting in Montreal.

Evidence has increasingly shown that these explosions cannot be effectively dealt with by existing fire suppression systems. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has called on the US Federal Aviation Authority to ban such flights in US airspace, though a US law prevents the FAA from passing any regulation that has not been approved by the ICAO already.

Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are becoming a regular shipment in air cargo, with everything from electric bikes to to phones using them. It is estimated that up to 20% of air cargo will include such batteries, and due to light touch regulation not all of them are listed in flight manifests. It was estimated that UPS Flight 6 that crashed in 2010 carried as many as 10,000 lithium ion batteries when it caught fire and crashed with the deaths of all on board. Ahead of a new iPhone launch air freight prices rocket as Apple books dozens of aircraft to get their goods to market.

Because the crashes have all been air freighters and away from urban areas, there hasn’t been any major public furore over the issue. Should a passenger flight catch fire and crash due to the problems one can expect a sea change in regulation with major problems for those wishing to rush deliveries from manufacturers to customers.