A fire onboard an Ethiopian Airlines 777 freighter at Shanghai Pudong this morning has again triggered questions on the safety of lithium batteries and cargo mis-declaration.

As yet, there is no information on how the blaze began, but 100% cargo screening in Shanghai could make it easier to determine the cause.

One source with boots on the ground at the airport told The Loadstar there were three pallets of lithium batteries listed on the manifest, for loading in China for export.

“This calls into question IATA’s support for allowing these batteries on passenger aircraft,” said one aviation expert.

Lithium ion and lithium metal batteries are prohibited on passenger aircraft, and there are strict rules on their carriage on freighters. But there have been problems with undeclared counterfeit batteries, poor packaging and mis-declared batteries.

IATA has argued in the past that it is these types which cause problems, and which will get onto aircraft despite measures against them, while legitimate manufacturers will lose out.

The increasing prevalence of lithium batteries in modern goods makes the regulations harder to enforce. Dangerous goods specialist Peter East & Associates warned in The Loadstar last week that new rules allowing powered scooters to be used in many countries could lead to a spate of dangerous shipments. Scooters need to be shipped in line with lithium battery regulations – but many new shippers may not know the rules.

The fire on Ethiopian’s aircraft was put out without harm to life, but investigators – and the carrier – will want to find out the exact cause.

Ethiopian Airlines said: “Ethiopian Airlines B777 freighter aircraft, with registration number ET-ARH, caught fire while loading cargo at Pudong Shanghai Airport today. The aircraft was on a regular scheduled cargo service from Shanghai to Sao Paulo-Santiago via Addis Ababa. All ground staff and flying crew are safe.

“Ethiopian has collaborated with all concerned authorities and contained the fire. The cause of the incident is under investigation by the appropriate authorities.”

While Ethiopian has a good safety record, one of its 787s caught fire at Heathrow in 2013, said to have been caused by two bare wires touching location equipment. That fire spread through the cabin and burned through the fuselage.

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  • David Brennan

    July 22, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    To start, Ethiopian Airlines have operator variations advised to IATA and included in the IATA DGR that prohibits the carriage of lithium metal and lithium ion batteries (UN 3090, UN 3480) on any Ethiopian aircraft. So based on their own policies there should not have been any lithium batteries in the cargo on that aircraft.

    As for supporting the transport of lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft, we have yet to see any incidents where the batteries complied in full with the provisions set out in the DGR. We have, however seen many incidents where shippers failed to comply with the regulations and in most of those cases the regulatory authorities have failed to prosecute the shipper, even where there was blatant abuse.

    • Rayhan ahmed

      July 23, 2020 at 7:52 pm

      I have loaded and off loaded cargo from varied
      Ethiopian airlines aircraft 757 350 777.
      The fire have been caused in the cargo hold
      Varied reason not just battery’s the complex
      Drive systems and wires and connection under the cargo hold floor is very varied like a human
      Bodies aterys and veins .
      Due to poor maintenance management the
      Cause Of the fire is longer then ones arm .
      The aircraft is a right off

    • Chris Glasow

      July 27, 2020 at 6:32 pm

      The article make the following statement:

      “ But there have been problems with undeclared counterfeit batteries, poor packaging and mis-declared batteries.”.

      This is International Air Transport Association (IATA) propaganda masquerading as safety information. IATA fought for years against efforts in the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Panel to more strictly regulate lithium battery cargo on aircraft. It literally took years to successfully ban such cargo from passenger aircraft due largely to IATA’s and the lithium battery lobby’s resistance. This after numerous reported incidents of fires on board aircraft from lithium batteries, including the fatal crash of UPS Flight 006 in September 2010, and the suspected cause in the fatal crash of Asiana Airlines flight 991 in July 2011.

      The idea that these fires are caused by undeclared, misdeclared, or counterfeit batteries is completely false and unsupported by any evidence. Yet this ruse has been used by IATA and others to fight off any regulatory efforts to ban this dangerous cargo on aircraft.

  • Dan Thomsett

    July 23, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    I believe your article to be slightly misleading as you state that lithium batteries are not allowed to be transported on passenger aircraft. While this may be true for batteries being shipped on their own, they ARE allowed to be shipped if they are inside equipment, such as scooters, radios, etc.

    • Felix

      July 24, 2020 at 1:15 pm

      I was thinking the same.
      As far as I know I’m allowed to take my phone onboard which uses a lithium ion battery like 99% of existing phones.

      Now this depends on the company but in most cases you are also allowed to carry lithium batteries (li ion, lipos, …) into the cabin. I do it when I transport batteries for my drones. Nevertheless it is forbidden (for good reason) to put them into cargo.