Are Freighter Crews Expendable?

A rather ironic question - but the simple answer is they are not!

Lithium Battery
Lithium Battery

The new regulation with regards to the transport of Lithium batteries on aircraft will come into effect as of 1. January 2015.
Two strange things here!
Firstly, why 1. January and not right now?
And - interesting to note that the total ban will only apply to the transport of this much discussed commodity on passenger aircraft.
So! - hence the rather ridiculous question - what about freighter aircraft and their crews?

The regulation with regards to transport in passenger aircraft is as shown above 1. January 2015.
This officially applies to raw Lithium-Metal-Cells and Batteries registered under UN3090.
However, here, there are also exceptions to the rule.
Articles such as notebooks, cell phones etc. and those which have a Lithium-Metal content in them are still allowed to be transported in the bellies of passenger aircraft.
The present rule regarding the transport of Lithium on passenger aircraft restricts the weight allowed per aircraft to 2.5 kilos. Even this small weight can have serious consequences if not handled or stored correctly.
Our understanding is that this will be zero kilos after 1. January.

But what about the freighters?
There have been some very nasty incidents in the past two years on both passenger and freighter aircraft whereby lithium shipments have overheated and caused damage.
Two incidents, both with B747F aircraft seemingly led to the loss of both along with their crews after lithium shipments apparently caught fire, causing smoke to engulf the cockpits and resulting in disorientation and loss of craft and crew.
Investigations are still going on in both of these accidents, so the final result is still outstanding.

Surely it would be of greater value to the industry, aircraft operators and their crews if there were finally a method of transporting these shipments by air whereby if they were to become defect and dangerous en-route, that their heat and smoke development could remained fully contained allowing crews to divert to other airports.
Just by loading larger quantities on the main deck as near to the cockpit as possible in order for crews to have faster access, is not enough.
Admittedly, the industry and the carriers have taken this problem seriously, but the immediate danger remains paramount.
The transport of lithium cells has become a daily affair and their importance for the modern day computer world goes without saying.

New containment needed
It‘s high time that this issue takes the top priority on the list for aircraft safety.
Up till now most “incidents“ have allowed crews enough time to get their aircraft back onto the ground before something drastic has happened.
The loss of a two man freighter crew is terrible enough.
The loss of a passenger aircraft due to faulty lithium cells or even faulty loading procedures would be indescribable.

There needs to be a container made which will not allow heat or smoke from such incidents to move outside of its walls. This is a heavy task as heat within in confined areas can increase in temperature very fast.
Then, the mandate should be that everything which has either lithium content or raw lithium cells must be transported and registered in such modules.

We have plenty of ULD and other container manufacturers out there who surely could come up with a final solution and allow pilots to breathe more easily knowing that they have safe carriage below decks or on the main deck.

John Mc Donagh

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