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IATA does not plan to ban the transport of lithium ion batteries by air, following a recent airport fire, but is calling for greater penalties for errors and better collaboration with governments.
Following a spate of airlines – as well as a shipping line – banning the shipment of some Vivo mobile phones after the fire in Hong Kong, IATA said it had stepped up discussions but did not support an outright ban.
“Safety and security is our number-one priority,” said Nick Careen, senior vice president, airport passenger cargo and security, this month.
“The most recent incident in Hong Kong shows how risky things truly are, but we continue to manage that risk.”
The lithium ion battery market is expected to see compound annual growth rate of 12.6% from 2020 to 2027.
“Demand is continuing to expand. It means we need collaboration with everyone, particularly governments,” added Mr Careen. “Testing, fire suppression, data and data-sharing are critical.”
He also called for more accountability.
“No one has ever been criminalised by risks they have put into the supply chain. That needs to change. People should be held accountable.”
However, some airlines have developed ways to mitigate the risks. Cathay Pacific Cargo is expanding the capacity of its fire containment bags (FCBs), which carry RBI lithium ion batteries and is now offering a ‘skid-size’ bag, larger than its previous 50kg capacity FCB. Trials, which began in October, have been successful, said the carrier.
The bags are made from a tested fire-retardant material and limit the supply of oxygen to a fire while allowing smoke to escape, triggering onboard fire warning systems.
The new bag is available across the freighter network, said Alex Leung, cargo products manager.
“Since the launch of our FCB solution, the demand for battery shipments has been growing steadily, despite capacity constraints due to Covid-19. The enhanced size of the bag provides the same level of safety assurance, and it is just as easy to order.”
Mr Careen said IATA would spend the next few weeks in an industry-led initiative “isolating where we need to put the focus”.
“It is safe,” he insisted. “But the risks involved need more fine-tuning. We are not at the point of a ban. But we do need to understand what else we can do.”
David Brennan, IATA’s dangerous good expert, pointed out that some vaccine shipments also contained lithium ion batteries.
“Taking batteries off the shipments would mark an unnecessary impediment to the rapid transport of vaccines.”