Reuters reported the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed to prohibit shipments of lithium-ion batteries on passenger aircraft, because of concerns that they are a fire hazard. The ICAO’s 36-state governing council said the prohibition would be in effect as of April 1, 2016. The prohibition will still allow for transporting lithium-ion batteries on cargo planes.
But this prohibition is not a permanent solution for the agency as it also requires that a new safer packaging standard is designed to transport the batteries. In a statement from ICAO Council President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, he stated that “this interim prohibition will continue to be in force as separate work continues through ICAO on a new lithium battery packaging performance standard, currently expected by 2018.”
However, there is some doubt that this ban on lithium-ion batteries is going to make passenger planes safer or if the agency needs to go further with the lithium-ion battery ban. Unfortunately, Reuters’ source for this information is an anonymous dangerous goods expert familiar with ICAO’s practices who said, “People who are not complying now won’t comply with a prohibition.” The source cited mislabeling practices used after the ICAO banned lithium metal batteries as cargo on flights as an example. The shippers responded to the ban by labeling the lithium metal batteries to pass off as lithium-ion batteries.
Even though these views do not represent the official stance of the U.N. aviation agency, they should not be discounted. There is some cause to be concerned for passenger safety if there are more instances where this is true because Reuters also reported that one of the most frequent causes of “such battery fires involved deliberate mislabeling by shippers.”
To fully extinguish the threat of battery fires on passenger planes, new mandates beyond the control of shippers may extend to include banning batteries in checked luggage as well. Until the new packaging standards are in place, shippers are under more pressure to label this type of dangerous goods correctly and exclude shipping it on passenger flights.