FAA On Lithium Batteries

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The FAA Friday released a Safety Alert to address “risks in transporting lithium batteries in cargo by aircraft,” noting that UPS Flight 006, a 747 that crashed on Sept. 3, was carrying large quantities of lithium batteries. Fire was reported on the UPS flight but the FAA notes that a cause of the crash has not yet been determined. The crash destroyed the aircraft and killed the crew. The FAA has found that lithium metal batteries are not only “highly flammable and capable of ignition” but also possess destructive explosive potential. The agency says Halon 1301, the fire suppression agent found in Class C cargo holds, “is ineffective in controlling a lithium metal cell fire” and lithium metal battery explosions can lead to “rapid fire spread” in cargo compartments. Lithium-ion batteries are somewhat different. They can exhibit the same thermal runaway as lithium metal batteries, but the FAA says Halon 1301 is capable of suppressing lithium-ion battery fires. The FAA’s recommendations are limited to batteries flown in cargo holds and do not apply to batteries carried by passengers or crew. The FAA is considering courses for further action.

The FAA recommends that all carriers attempt to identify lithium batteries and stow bulk shipments in Class C cargo compartments “or in locations where alternative fire suppression is available.” It encourages carriers to evaluate their training stowage and communication protocols with respect to “the transportation andof lithium batteries in the event of an unrelated fire” and requests that carriers pay special attention to ensure safe handling and compliance with regulations covering Class 9 hazardous materials. At present, there are “no approved and tested containers that can contain the known effects of accidental lithium metal battery ignition.” Access the FAA’s flammability assessments through links at the bottom of the second page of the Safety Alert (PDF).