Image: Joe Leader

With consumer demand for lithium batteries growing by 22% annually, IATA is stepping up efforts to ensure they are transported safely.

IATA is working to promote the safe air transport of lithium batteries, which power several devices that accompany travelers, such as cell phones, laptops and tablets. IATA’s efforts include educating travelers to pack lithium batteries, which are highly combustible, in carry-on baggage rather than checked luggage; a new system for airlines to report incidents; and encouraging stricter enforcement of international regulations on the transportation of lithium batteries.

At IATA Global Media Day, Nick Careen, IATA senior vice-president of Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security, highlighted the need to raise awareness of the rising danger of counterfeit batteries and asked that nations work to eradicate uncertified batteries.

In a one-on-one discussion with APEX/IFSA CEO Dr. Joe Leader, Careen highlighted the importance of bringing lithium batteries into the cabin, so that they’re easily accessible in the event of a fire. “For on-board cabin containment, it’s actually pretty good,” Careen said. “The standards of how to handle a fire on board … are fairly robust.  We have not seen any issues.” In addition, IATA welcomed APEX to work on lithium battery safety, with respect to passenger electronic devices, moving forward.

“APEX has clearly stated that personal electronic devices belong in the hands of passengers rather than the cargo hold, but a growing dynamic on the aircraft involves uncertified batteries and cables,” Leader stated.  “For the airline industry, we need to work with IATA to stay ahead of these issues as we educate the flying public.”

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Lithium batteries gained attention in 2016 when Samsung recalled its Galaxy Note 7 after several reports of it igniting, both in aircraft cabins and on the ground. This led the US government to temporarily ban passengers from bringing electronics larger than a cellphone into the aircraft cabin with them. The FAA then announced new regulations to allow lithium batteries in the cabin, but not in checked luggage, due to the danger of overwhelming the cargo fire suppression systems, as noted by IATA, ICAO and APEX.

Careen also shared that IATA yesterday launched a cross-divisional effort with the Global Shippers Forum (GSF), the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) and the International Air Cargo Association (TIACA). From this effort, Careen stated that IATA may eventually come out with additional recommendations for high-energy carry-on items, including lithium batteries.