Air transport of lithium batteries: Disaster ‘only a matter of time,’ DeFazio says


Peter DeFazio

Washington – A lawmaker is predicting a grim outcome if regulators do not strengthen safety standards for air transport of lithium cells and batteries.

“It’s only a matter of time until we lose another plane,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said April 14 during a hearing before the House Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. “We’ve lost a couple of cargo planes. It could be a passenger plane; it could be a cargo plane.”

Lithium batteries and cells are at risk of overheating and igniting if they are mishandled. At least three cargo planes have crashed or caught fire since 2006 in incidents involving bulk shipments of lithium batteries, which are used to power many portable electronic devices.

DeFazio told National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher A. Hart and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Acting Administrator Timothy P. Butters that Congress should push for regulations more stringent than those issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Hart and Butters agreed that more needs to be done to improve safety. In August, the Department of Transportation issued a final rule that aligned with – but did not exceed – ICAO’s technical instructions for lithium battery shipments.