Over the past two weeks, airlines throughout the world have announced voluntary bans on the passenger carriage of hoverboards on aircraft. These boards pose a serious threat to the safety of aircraft because of their power source: lithium batteries. Each board has a single battery that is capable of self-igniting and burning hotter than standard fire suppression systems are capable of putting out. That’s bad news mid-flight.
Passenger airlines have recognized the grave dangers posed by just one lithium battery; imagine the incredible threat a pallet-full or an entire cargo compartment of these batteries can pose. While some passenger airlines have also voluntarily banned bulk shipments of lithium ion batteries, other airlines have not and unfortunately, for cargo pilots, they live with this threat every day from the carriage of both lithium ion, and worse, lithium metal battery shipments.
Today, not all types of lithium batteries are fully regulated as hazardous materials and as such some can be carried as cargo without quantity restrictions. No special packaging is required, regardless of the number of batteries being shipped, and the pilot-in-command, responsible for the safe transport of the aircraft, may not be informed of the presence of certain types of lithium batteries onboard.
These batteries are particularly dangerous because of their unique characteristics. One flawed battery in a box can start a chain reaction that will ignite the entire load. In addition to burning incredibly hot, FAA testing found that these batteries generate thick smoke which can fill an entire plane, including the cockpit, in less than eight minutes following ignition. The gases released during a lithium battery fire are also flammable and can result in explosions.
The FAA, Boeing, and Airbus have all issued statements or studies noting the dangerous nature of these batteries in-flight and have urged proactive measures to protect airline safety. ALPA has long been an advocate of what many passenger carriers have realized: lithium batteries cannot be transported safely given today’s packaging and onboard fire suppression systems. Lithium batteries should be fully regulated as dangerous goods with all of the safeguards applied to transported materials that pose a risk to aviation safety. You can join in ALPA’s call to appropriately regulate these devices by participating in our call-to-action on this issue today.