U.S. Carriers Halt Lithium Battery Shipments

Two major U.S. airlines have announced that they will no longer accept rechargeable battery shipments as new government tests confirm that explosions and violent fires are likely to occur when large numbers of batteries enclosed in cargo containers overheat, an AP report said.

FAA tests show lithium-ion batteries can cause fierce explosions  /  source: FAA
FAA tests show lithium-ion batteries can cause fierce explosions / source: FAA

Citing safety concerns, United Airlines on Monday informed its cargo customers it will no longer accept bulk shipments of the batteries, which are used to power everything from smart phones to laptops to power tools.

Delta Air Lines quietly stopped accepting bulk shipments of the rechargeable batteries on Feb. 1. The airline said in a statement that it took the action in response to government testing and concerns raised by its pilots and flight attendants.

A third major U.S. carrier, American Airlines, stopped accepting some types of lithium-ion battery shipments on Feb. 23. But the airline is continuing to accept small packages of batteries known under dangerous goods regulations as Section II batteries.

FAA expresses enormous safety concerns
Tests conducted last month by the Federal Aviation Administration show that rechargeable batteries, also called lithium-ion batteries, consistently emit explosive gases when they overheat or short-circuit. In the recent tests, as well as other FAA tests last year, the buildup of gases, primarily hydrogen, led to fierce explosions.

In the test, a cartridge heater was used to simulate a single battery overheating. The heater caused nearby batteries to overheat and the short-circuiting spread to many of the nearly 5,000 batteries in the container. It's common for tens of thousands of batteries to be placed in a single container.

Shippers will often group many of the small packages together or "overpack" them into a single cargo container. Those are the kinds of shipments that the FAA has been testing and that are a greater safety concern. However, American says it will only accept these packages on pallets rather than in containers and will not allow them to be overpacked.

Nol van Fenema

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