ALPA Calls For Ban On Lithium Battery Shipments

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The Air Line Pilots Association on Tuesday asked for an immediate federal ban on all shipments of lithium batteries on passenger and cargo aircraft until new regulations are in place to ensure their safe transport. ALPA said its concern extends only to batteries packed as cargo, not to batteries in consumer products that passengers (or pilots) might carry aboard. "ALPA has long called for regulations to ensure that safety is the first priority in transporting shipments of lithium batteries aboard airliners," said Mark Rogers, director of ALPA's Dangerous Goods Programs. "Now the evidence of a clear and present danger is mounting. We need an immediate ban on these dangerous goods to protect airline passengers, crews, and cargo." ALPA said three recent incidents have demonstrated the hazards of the battery shipments.

Those incidents occurred on board U.S. aircraft in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, the Dominican Republic, and Honolulu. None resulted in injuries. ALPA noted that the NTSB recommended that lithium battery shipments should be regulated as dangerous goods after a fire aboard a DC-8 in Philadelphia in 2006. Stricter rules should require appropriate packaging, labeling, marking, testing, and pilot notification, ALPA says. If federal agencies don't take action, ALPA President John Prater said his organization will ask Congress to intervene. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told USA Today the government sees no need for an emergency ban on lithium battery shipments, because strict new rules are already in the works. "We're monitoring the situation," Brown said. "We understand there have been incidents." The new rules will be drafted by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which has been working on the project for two years. The Minneapolis incident occurred Aug. 14, when a fire started in a FedEx cargo container containing battery-powered smokeless cigarettes shortly before the jet landed in Minneapolis. The shipment of bulk non-rechargeable lithium batteries on passenger jets has been prohibited since 2004 (PDF).