Lithium Batteries - Are We Finally Getting Somewhere?

Much discussion, little progress - that‘s what many have so far seen with regards to the debate on whether the carriage of lithium-ion batteries on passenger and freighter aircraft should be banned altogether.

It‘s  regretfully almost forgotten by some that it is not that long ago that the two Boeing 747 freighters along with their crews which were lost in accidents almost certainly attributable to on-board fires created by overheated shipments of lithium-ion batteries which were carried in large quantities.
The final judgement on the loss of the above mentioned aircarft still has to be presented.
However, given the circumstances, it is apparent that fire on board led to the tragic loss of life and the aircraft.

What‘s been decided since then?
Not much! - many might add.
The recent discussions and round table meets on this subject have tended to concentrate more on the issue as to whether this type of cargo should be restricted or banned in the holds of passenger aircraft.
Carriers such as United, to name one of a few, have banned the carriage of lithium-ion shipments on their passenger aircraft and the general debate still seems to centre around the question as to whether lithium-ion carriage is a danger on civil aircraft.
We all know it is a ticking time bomb and the industry and the aircraft manufacturers have to come up with clear guidlelines now in order to prevent an even greater loss of life.

Boeing finally issues a lithium-ion warning to carriers
It seems rather ironic that one of the world‘s largest aircraft manufacturers only now has issued an official warning to its passenger airline clients  that they should ban the carriage of “large quantities“ of lithium-ion shipments in the bellies of pax aircraft until improved packaging methods have been put in place

Who is going to determine then, what and how improved packaging should be produced and its implementation?
This discussion is going around and around for far too long.
One has to ask themselves, what are the aircraft manufacturers really doing to ensure that on-board uncontained fires cannot lead to the destruction of an aircraft before it has a chance to make an emergency landing somewhere.
It is claimed that lithium-ion  shipments which catch fire can be extinguished by the present Halon fire suppressant systems installed in aircraft.
Is this a proven fact and by the way this statement does not refer to lithium metal batteries which might be on board.

Battery industry statement
Even more ironic is the recent statement given by the so called Rechargeable Battery Association, which says it is looking forward to continuing their discussion with Boeing and other aircraft makers in July at the ICAO meeting to try and come up with a new standard for packaging of batteries.
Come on guys! Stop the talking and get some viable solutions in place.
Until then we should ban the carriage of all lithium shipments by air.
Not just on passenger aircraft, but freighters as well.
Try explaining to the widows of freighter crews who died in supposed lithium fires, that  on the face of it their husbands were worth less than their colleagues in passenger aircraft

Maybe a general ban will jog the industry as a whole into making a real concerted effort to come up with answers.

IATA‘s Lithium Battery Workshop
A fifth workshop will be hosted by IATA in September of this year on lithium batteries.
Yes! the 5th one, with a slogan which says “Outreach to Enhance Safety.“
With all respect for IATA, which does a great job, but why do we need another two day workshop with an agenda which in my view is more theoretical than practical.
IATA should be demanding immediate solutions from battery manufacturers and ensuring that airlines implement them forthwith.

It is not to say that there is nothing being done.
Bomb-proof linings which are hoped can contain explosions in aircraft holds are being developed by a team of scientists in the UK. Tests of this product named Fly-Bag were made on Boeing 747 and Airbus A321 aircraft  and have so far shown that these linings can successfully contain blasts in the bellies.
But we cannot leave up to the scientists to implement restrictions.
That‘s an industry responsibility.

Are we getting there?
Not yet it seems!

John Mc Donagh

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