© Khunaspix Dreamstime.

There is “no likelihood” that lithium metal batteries will be banned from freighter aircraft anytime soon, according to Glyn Hughes, global head of cargo for IATA. But he called on governments to place greater oversight on the counterfeit battery market.

The dangers associated with the battery type, which will be banned from passenger aircraft on January 1, have been under investigation by ICAO and the FAA, but despite concerns from pilots’ groups such as Air Line Pilots Association over the carriage of lithium metal batteries in freighters, Mr Hughes said ICAO was not considering a ban.

“The difference is that a pilot can refuse to accept certain cargo. A passenger doesn’t have that right,” explained Mr Hughes.

He added that while the batteries had been found to cause fires, the most effective way of preventing disasters was to warn consumers of the risks of buying counterfeit batteries.

“Properly manufactured batteries, packaged appropriately, have no safety issues,” he claimed. “But counterfeit batteries are coming into the supply chain and somehow we need to identify them. We need a campaign to raise awareness among consumers.

“Governments should have a stronger oversight on counterfeit battery makers. The focus on counterfeit goods tends to be on luxury products, handbags and so on. But this is about safety.”

While it is hard to determine how many lithium batteries are carried on aircraft – partly because counterfeits go undetected – the market is growing fast. According to Frost & Sullivan, the global lithium-ion battery market was worth $17.5bn last year and is expected to grow to $76.4bn in 2020 – a 336% rise – as makers of products such as hybrid cars look to boost battery technology.

FAA tests show that lithium metal batteries, the non-rechargeable type used in devices such as calculators, can burst into flames faster than other types and reach temperatures topping 2,000ºF (1,093ºC). Lithium ion batteries could explode, spreading as far as 150ft.

The Wall St Journal reported last month that ICAO was looking at how many rechargeable, lithium ion batteries should be carried on a single passenger aircraft. Battery makers, of course, are lobbying hard to prevent further restrictions.

ICAO is also said to be considering changes in packaging – for example, inserting gels or cooling agents between packs – adding both cost and weight to shipments.

Meanwhile it was reported last week that scientists at Stanford University have developed a “smart” lithium ion battery that can signal a warning before bursting into flame. It wouldn’t however, work on damaged batteries – or counterfeits.

Comment on this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.