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Freighter operators could see increased numbers of shipments of lithium-ion batteries after Boeing issued a warning to passenger airlines over the risks.
The planemaker has urged passenger airlines not to carry lithium-ion batteries as cargo until “safer methods of packaging and transport are established and implemented”, the company told Associated Press.
Several airlines have already banned bulk battery shipments from the bellyhold, including Cathay Pacific, United, IAG Cargo and Qantas.
And, despite being an all-cargo operator, Cargolux has also banned the bulk shipment of lithium ion batteries. There is an argument that a fire caused by the batteries would be easier to extinguish in the maindeck than in the belly, but pilot associations are keen to implement the same rules for freighters that are applied to passenger carriers.
The US FAA has also issued a statement noting that the batteries “present a risk”. The authority completed a series of tests which showed that when batteries short-circuit they emit gases that can cause explosions and extremely hot fires, which are hard to put out.
A special working group at ICAO will be meeting this month to discuss new packaging for batteries which would contain a fire. However, if no decision can be reached on packaging, the UN agency is likely to ban battery shipments from passenger airlines at its next meeting in October.
The Rechargeable Battery Association (PBRA) has lobbied hard against new restrictions on the shipment of batteries, but said in a statement that it “shared Boeing’s goal of improving the safe transport of bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries by air”.
“Ongoing international regulatory initiatives, along with the development of innovative fire suppression technologies and more robust international enforcement efforts, are reducing risk and advancing battery safety,” said PRBA Executive Director George Kerchner. “Together, these ambitious efforts to improve transportation safety mitigate the need to prohibit air shipments of lithium-ion batteries.”
However, the association indicated that it felt batteries were being unfairly targeted, particularly given that it had not been shown that fully-compliant shipments had caused any incidents.
“PRBA also remains concerned that certification of aircraft fail to consider the unique hazards associated with the carriage of any dangerous goods, not just those associated with lithium batteries,” said Mr Kerchner.
Boeing’s warning was only issued to passenger airlines, suggesting that cargo airlines may pick up much of the business relinquished by belly carriers.
Pilots, however, who are able to offload cargo they think is unsafe, are concerned about maindeck operations too. In a statement to some media, the Air Line Pilots Association called for a ban on freighters.
“We hope this warning will encourage others to follow suit and discontinue the bulk shipment of lithium batteries on board passenger aircraft and on cargo aircraft until adequate safety procedures are developed.”