Restrictions on the carriage of lithium batteries by air are clearly not yet finalised, despite ICAO's best efforts. Geoff Leach reports on the latest round of regulatory changes
The International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) held its 25th meeting this past October. The Panel meets every two years to ratify the changes to the Technical Instructions agreed at the two previous meetings of its Working Group. Those adopted by the Panel – with a few exceptions – will now appear in the 2017-2018 edition of the Technical Instructions.
As had been the case at other recent meetings, discussion was dominated by the subject of lithium batteries. At the April 2015 meeting of the DGP Working Group, the provisions for the transport by air of lithium ion batteries had come under scrutiny because testing conducted by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had indicated that the cargo hold fire suppression systems fitted to modern passenger aircraft are not capable of dealing with a fire involving large quantities of such batteries.
In response to the FAA testing, the major aircraft manufacturers issued recommendations to operators that they do not carry lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft until safer methods of transport can be established; operators were also urged to conduct safety risk assessments to establish appropriate risk mitigation measures depending on the nature of their operations.
ICAO’s Operations Panel believes there should be an outright ban on the transport of lithium batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft until a “safe” (as opposed to “safer”) method of transport is established. That is a subjective call.
While some DGP members believed enhanced standards are required, others felt that there is sufficient evidence that an acceptable level of safety already exists; in those incidents involving lithium batteries where a cause has been established, none has been attributed to batteries in full compliance with the UN/ICAO requirements.
BATTERY OF PROPOSALS
A number of specific proposals relating to lithium batteries were considered by the Panel. One proposed to prohibit the carriage of UN 3480 lithium ion batteries (i.e. not contained in or packed with equipment) as cargo on passenger aircraft. There were opinions for and against the proposal and some Panel members were willing to oppose the suggestion if additional safeguards were introduced. These included:
(a) requiring all lithium ion cells and batteries to be transported at a state of charge of no more than 30 per cent of their rated design capacity, except with the approval of the States of Origin and of the Operator;
(b) allowing only one package prepared in accordance with Section II of Packing Instructions 965 and 968 in any single consignment; and
(c) allowing only one package prepared in accordance with Section II of Packing Instruction 965 and 968 in an overpack.
As a result of these suggestions, there was a majority against the proposal to ban all lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft. However, the measures were seen as being temporary, until such time as performance-based standards can be developed that would further mitigate the risk posed by lithium batteries.
Since those standards have yet to be developed, DGP recommended that these additional measures be introduced with effect from 1 April 2016 by means of an addendum to the 2015-2016 edition of the Technical Instructions.
It cannot, however, be avoided that additional requirements will do nothing to address the problem of non-compliant shippers, who have invariably been responsible for those accidents that have occurred. This was graphically illustrated by an information paper with details of an incident when smoke was seen emanating from a package that had recently been unloaded from an aircraft. Lithium batteries contained within had caught fire and investigation revealed them to be counterfeit.
Further investigation of the incident also revealed that:
• a document purporting to certify the batteries had been tested in accordance with the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria was bogus;
• despite the lithium batteries being shipped as standalones, the air waybill stated the consignment contained “lithium ion batteries packed with equipment”, which may well have been an attempt to circumvent the operator’s self-imposed ban on the carriage of standalones;
• the cause of ignition was probably due to the way in which it was handled, but this would not be expected of a battery that had passed the required tests.
DGP accepted that enforcement measures to address wilful non-compliance are very important, although this is often not as straightforward as it may first appear: civil aviation authorities have limited jurisdiction and the manufacture of batteries is likely to be beyond the scope of their responsibilities. Whatever the requirements, it must be hoped that the increased requirements do not deter currently compliant shippers from continuing to adhere to the requirements.
NICETIES OF BATTERIES
Proposals for amendment of some specific areas of regulation regarding lithium batteries received mixed reviews. A proposal to delete the Section IB and II provisions from packing instructions 965 and 968, which allow the transport by air of lithium ion cells and batteries not exceeding 20 Wh and 100 Wh, respectively, failed, as the Panel felt the current provisions offer a safe alternative to full regulation for small cells and batteries.
A proposal to amend packing instruction 952, which applies to UN 3171 battery-powered equipment and vehicles, to require strong rigid outer packagings for small vehicles (e.g. “e-bikes”) that do not completely surround the battery, was adopted.
It was also queried whether special provision A21 should reflect the wording of UN special provision 240, which requires that parts of a vehicle, including the battery, are removed and shipped in a package together. It was felt that this would lead to the battery being classed as “packed with equipment” (UN 3481), which would not achieve the desired level of safety.
One paper discussed by DGP attempted to clarify when a lithium battery should be considered as being on its own (standalone) and so classified as lithium ion or metal batteries (UN 3480 or 3090), as opposed to “packed with or contained in equipment” (UN 3481 or 3091). This issue had been raised with particular regard to the emerging practice of shipping battery-powered chargers as “contained in equipment”. The Panel felt that, as the sole function of the charger is to provide power, their classification under “contained in equipment” is somewhat disingenuous, despite the protestations of the battery industry. DGP adopted new text to clarify that items such as battery-powered chargers should be classified as standalone batteries.
The ban on lithium metal cells and batteries on passenger aircraft extends to button cells but testing has shown that small button cells containing up to 3 g of lithium metal do not demonstrate the same level of risk that larger batteries do, in that a thermal runaway event does not propagate from one button cell to the next. DGP was invited to consider an interim solution to permit their carriage, as adoption of a new entry in the Dangerous Goods List will take time to pass through the UN system. There was support in principle but some members of the Panel felt this was an issue that should be held back until there is more stability in the provisions for lithium batteries and performance-based standards have been developed. No change was agreed but the topic will be revisited during the next biennium.
There was some concern at the increasing use of electronic baggage tags powered by lithium batteries. A proposal to amend the passenger and crew provisions to allow their carriage was, however, agreed. On the other hand, a proposal to allow passengers to carry emergency locator beacons containing lithium batteries in excess of the limitations prescribed for portable electronic devices in their baggage was not adopted.
It was pointed out that UN 0501 Propellant, solid, a Division 1.4C explosive, is forbidden for carriage on both passenger or cargo aircraft, while all other Division 1.4C entries are allowed on cargo aircraft. With some input from the UN Explosives Working Group, it was agreed that this anomaly should be rectified.
Conditions were added to the Supplement to the Technical Instructions, upon which States can base an approval for the carriage of UN 1005 Ammonia, anhydrous and UN 3516 Adsorbed gas, toxic, corrosive, nos on a cargo aircraft. The conditions, taken from the UN Model Regulations, provide an exception from full regulation.
Special provision A62, assigned to “nos” explosives entries, may only be used with the approval of the appropriate authority of the State of Origin. In effect, this means that each individual shipment under A62 requires such approval. DGP did not believe this was the intention when the provision was brought in from the UN recommendations and agreed to replace “State of Origin” with “State in which the dangerous goods were manufactured”.
It was agreed that special provision A112, which is assigned to ID 8000 Consumer commodities, should be extended to cover UN 3334 Aviation regulated liquid, nos and UN 3335 Aviation regulated solid.
Various comments had been made at the two meeting of the Working Group on ways to allow the transport on passenger and cargo aircraft of sterilisation devices that contain UN 1067 Nitrogen dioxide, UN 1660 Nitric oxide, compressed, or UN 2031 Nitric acid, other than red fuming, with more than 20 per cent and less than 65 per cent nitric acid. Such devices are often used in response operations at major emergencies, where electrical power is unavailable. A proposal to allow their carriage was adopted.
A proposal to delete special provision A104 was also agreed. A104 is assigned to UN 1230 Methanol and gives flexibility on the use of a subsidiary “toxic” label. It removal would make such a label mandatory, aligning the Technical Instructions with the other modal regulations. Now that the need to segregate toxics from animals and foodstuffs has been removed, the presence of A104 is no longer required.
A contradiction had been identified in the Technical Instructions: “large packagings” (with a net mass exceeding 400 kg) are not permitted for use in air transport, although for some articles the net mass is unlimited (“no limit” appears in Table 3-1). The Panel agreed to allow large packagings on cargo aircraft only (to align with the existing provisions for portable tanks) and require certain marks and labels to be affixed to two opposed sides of the package as required by the UN Model Regulations.
The new special provision A197, introduced into the 2015-2016 edition of the Technical Instructions to harmonise with a similar change to the UN Recommendations, removed the need for an existing exception from the marking requirements for UN 3077 and 3082 Environmentally hazardous substances when in packages not exceeding 5 litres/kg. That exception had therefore been deleted. It has since emerged that, for operational reasons, some shippers prefer to ship such consignments as fully regulated and to bear the EHS mark. ADR has reflected this by reintroducing the exception, making such marking possible, but the Panel felt that it should align with the UN Model Regulations and decided against following suit.
The Panel’s opinion was sought on a proposal to the UN seeking to deregulate beverages, foods, medicines and cosmetics containing ethyl alcohol mixtures classified as flammable liquids of Packing Group II or III when packed for retail sale or pharmaceutical distribution. DGP thought there was no justification for such a change; there are many other flammable liquids that are less flammable but are subject to full regulation.
At the previous working group a proposal to allow a transitional period before new editions of the Technical Instructions became mandatory was rejected. However, it was agreed that consideration could be given for specific changes where it was recognised that shippers would need time to comply with new requirements. In light of this, it was agreed that shippers could have three months to apply the new classification criteria and UN numbers for engines. However, a proposal to reduce the transition period provided for the lithium battery mark from two years to one year was rejected.
A paper reported on an incident involving the rupture of several bottles of catecholborane during a long, hot sea voyage. Other bottles exploded and caught fire while being prepared for onward shipment. Catecholborane is classified as UN 2924 Flammable liquid, corrosive, nos, but it is apparent that it presents other hazards, namely:
- it can react violently with water
- it decomposes to borane at a rate of 2 per cent per week at room temperature, and
- borane gas can ignite in contact with moist air.
It had been concluded that the incident reported above resulted from moist air entering the bottles during the voyage, causing a chemical reaction.
The chemical industry believes catecholborane should only be transported in pressure receptacles and under cooled conditions. Given that substances requiring temperature control are normally forbidden in air transport there was general consensus that this substance should be treated accordingly.
While the issue has been passed to the UN Sub-committee of Experts for deliberation, it was recognised that an immediate risk to flight safety exists. Consequently, it was agreed to add a new (light type) entry for catecholborane in Table 3-1, the Dangerous Goods List, with a special provision assigned forbidding transport by air on both passenger and cargo aircraft, although carriage on cargo aircraft is permitted with the approval of the States of Origin and Operator.
So concerned was the Panel that it agreed that the change should take effect by way of an addendum to the 2015-2016 edition of the Technical Instructions, rather than waiting for the next edition.
The existing training provisions in the Technical Instructions are to be replaced with a new, competency-based system and the Panel was presented with finalised text of the new provisions and guidance material. This new approach seeks to determine a person’s competence to carry out a function rather than their ability to pass a test and has already been applied in other areas of aviation regulation.
The new provisions are quite different from the methods of training that have been used for many years and will present challenges, particularly to independent training organisations. Consequently, the new material will be published in the Technical Instructions as guidance material until the 2019-2020 edition, when it would become regulatory text.
ICAO will write to all member states requesting that they reach out to their constituents to make them aware of the proposed changes for competency-based dangerous goods training. ICAO will also publish the material on its website to seek comments from industry and training providers.
It was agreed to extend the allowance for dangerous goods carried on aircraft for use in connection with search and rescue operations to other non-operational flights, such as training flights.
Amendments to the provisions concerning the operator’s responsibilities to warn passengers about dangerous goods that they are forbidden from carrying were proposed, reflecting the innovative ways some operators have devised to make the check-in process more efficient. The Panel agreed to a number of enhancements and new guidance material.
Changes to the requirements for the acceptance check to ensure that whoever carries out the check can be identified by the operator were proposed. Although not all of the proposals were accepted, the Panel did reach an acceptable agreement on new text.
The Technical Instructions require operators to report to the authorities any forbidden dangerous goods discovered in baggage. In practice, however, such discoveries are normally made by airport security agencies. Operators are therefore unable to meet their obligation unless advised by the security agency. The text was modified to restrict the requirement to those cases of which operators have been notified.
A proposal was made to prohibit the carriage of small medical or clinical thermometers containing mercury in carry-on baggage, following an incident involving a leak of mercury from one aboard an aircraft. Mercury is highly corrosive to aluminium and can cause expensive and potentially dangerous damage to the fabric of the aircraft. The Panel adopted the prohibition, noting that digital thermometers have largely replaced mercury thermometers for clinical use.
Revisions were proposed to the passenger provisions for battery-powered mobility aids, to distinguish between those provisions that are relevant to the passenger and those that can only be applied by the operator. This is an important issue; while provisions must be made to allow persons of reduced mobility to travel by air, improper preparation of battery-powered wheelchairs has resulted in numerous incidents. There was strong support for the proposal and work would continue over the next biennium.
Another ongoing project is the revision of the provisions for the carriage of dangerous goods by passengers and crew, so as to provide a stable structure that would reduce the need to constantly modify the table as new items are proposed for inclusion. There was a great deal of support for the work, which will continue over the next biennium.
Finally, a series of papers detailed draft amendments to the Technical Instructions to align with the 19th revised edition of the UN Model Regulations. These are too lengthy to replicate here but can be seen on the ICAO website.
BATTERIES IN BRIEF
During the 2014-2015 biennium a number of changes have been agreed to the requirements in the ICAO Technical Instructions related to lithium batteries. Ordinarily, these changes would come into effect on 1 January 2017, but on this occasion the Dangerous Goods Panel has determined that some are of such significance that they will come into effect on 1 April 2016. Most of the other changes will come into effect on 1 January 2017 as normal, although some will have a transition period of 2 years i.e. they do not become mandatory until 1 January 2019.
In this summary of those changes, “batteries” are referred to throughout but the changes equally apply to “cells”.
WITH EFFECT FROM 1 APRIL 2016
Packing Instruction 965 Sections IA, IB and II (UN3480, Lithium ion batteries)
Lithium ion batteries may only be transported providing their State of Charge (SoC) does not exceed 30% of their rated capacity. Batteries shipped in accordance with Section IA and IB exceeding 30% SoC may only be transported with the approval of the States of Origin and the Operator (airline). This limitation does not apply to UN 3481, Lithium ion batteries packed with equipment or Lithium ion batteries contained in equipment.
Packing Instruction 965 Section II (UN3480, lithium ion batteries) and 968 Section II (UN3090, lithium metal batteries)
Only one package may be in any single consignment. The Technical Instructions define consignment as “One or more packages of dangerous goods accepted by an operator from one shipper at one time and at one address, receipted for in one lot and moving to one consignee at one destination address”.
Only one package may be placed in an overpack.
Packages must be offered to the operator separately from other cargo (as is the case with fully regulated dangerous goods).
Packing Instruction 965 Section II (UN3480, lithium ion batteries)
Packages must not be loaded into a unit load device before being offered to the operator. (Already a requirement of Packing Instruction 968 Section II.)
WITH EFFECT FROM 1 JANUARY 2017
Packing Instructions 965 (UN 3480, lithium ion batteries), 966 (UN 3481, lithium ion batteries packed with equipment), 967 (UN 3481, lithium ion batteries contained in equipment), 968 (UN 3481, lithium metal batteries), 969 (UN 3091, lithium metal batteries packed with equipment) and 970 (UN 3091, lithium metal batteries contained in equipment)
Clarified to the effect that a single cell battery as defined in Part III, sub-section 22.214.171.124 of the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria is considered a “cell” and must be transported according to the requirements for “cells”.
Clarified to require “rigid” outer packagings and to state the types of box, drum and jerrican that can be used.
Geoff Leach was chair of the ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel from 2007 to 2013 and attended meetings on behalf of the UK Civil Aviation Authority from 1992 until his departure from CAA in 2013; he now attends DGP and its Working Group meetings on behalf of the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council (DGAC). He is principal of The Dangerous Goods Office Ltd; more information can be found at www.dgo-uk.com[post_title] => Batteries included [post_excerpt] =>
Restrictions on the carriage of lithium batteries by air are clearly not yet finalised, despite ICAO's best efforts. Geoff Leach reports on the latest round of regulatory changes
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