A proposed rule to adopt an international ban on shipments of lithium-ion batteries on passenger flights has been stalled by an executive order from the White House barring new regulations from taking effect, despite warnings from aviation officials that the risk to human safety is immediate and urgent.
A year ago the Obama Administration aimed to adopt for domestic flights a new international standard for shipping lithium-ion batteries established by the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). That rule bans the bulk shipment of the rechargeable, potentially explosive batteries on all international passenger jets and mandates that batteries on cargo jets be charged no more than 30 percent to reduce the risk of a fire.
Lithium-ion batteries are used increasingly in electronics, powering cell phones, e-cigarettes, laptops, hoverboards, and countless other consumer products. The powerful, rechargeable batteries are prone to explode and burn up to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit if they are damaged, have a manufacturing flaw, become overcharged, or are packaged improperly.
A single lithium-ion battery explosion can severely damage a plane. A fire involving an entire shipment of the batteries could easily melt the aircraft’s aluminum structure and destroy its fire suppression systems.
According to the Associated Press, in-flight fires caused or exacerbated by lithium-ion batteries have destroyed three cargo jets and killed four pilots.
But despite the urgency of adopting stricter standards for all domestic U.S. flights, the Trump administration’s Transportation Department said it is putting the measure under regulatory review. No time frame for a review of the rule has been announced.
That means that all major airlines and cargo operators are free to ignore the safety rule on all domestic flights if they feel it’s appropriate.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., says adopting the international standard for domestic flights is “a matter of life and death” for airline passengers and crew.
“If we don’t start following the ICAO guidelines and stop stuffing giant boxes of lithium batteries that are fully charged into passenger aircraft, sooner or later we’re going to kill a lot of people,” he told the AP. “When something is this critical that it will take down an airplane, voluntary compliance with a non-existent rule is not adequate.”
According to the AP, lobbyists for the battery industry fought the international standard and are urging the Trump administration to allow blanket exemptions for certain lithium-ion batteries on passenger flights.
“Congress directed the Transportation Department last year to adopt the international standard for domestic flights. But it’s not uncommon for federal agencies to ignore congressional directives or delay compliance, especially if they disagree with them,” an AP report noted.
“Without harmonization, the U.S. also can’t enforce the U.N. agency standard for international passenger and cargo flights to and from the United States,” the AP reported, noting that the U.S. is the largest aviation market in the world.
Source: Associated Press