The International Civil Aviation Organization has passed an interim amendment barring lithium ion aircraft batteries as cargo on passenger planes.
These plane batteries are at the heart of an ongoing investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration into problems with the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Almost a month ago, the lithium ion battery fueling a 787 in Boston caught fire, and a similar incident occurred on a Japan Airlines flight in Japan.
The amendment must now be approved by the full ICAO council, which will meet later this month.
ICAO had previously allowed lithium ion batteries weighing up to 35 kilograms as cargo on passenger flights under special circumstances. The inclusion — found in Special Provision A51 in ICAO’s dangerous goods technical instructions — had only been allowed since Jan. 1.
“This amendment to Special Provision A51 is a temporary measure, taken to ensure that safety considerations remain paramount while the related investigations in the United States and Japan remain ongoing,” ICAO Council President Roberto Kobeh González said in a statement. “Safety is the No. 1 priority of the aviation community, and we are very confident that this situation will eventually be resolved in a manner that further supports air transport’s admirable safety performance while addressing the concerns of all stakeholders impacted by these events.”
The National Transportation Safety Board recently determined that a short in one of eight battery cells caused the Japan Airlines fire.
“That cell showed multiple signs of short circuiting, leading to a thermal runaway condition, which then cascaded to other cells,” according to an NTSB release. “Charred battery components indicated that the temperature inside the battery case exceeded 500 degrees Fahrenheit.”
According to guidelines covering lithium ion battery shipments by UPS, a major risk of shipping these batteries is short-circuiting. To prevent this, they should be packed so no two batteries are touching and may even be placed, one by one, in non-conductive packaging.
Boeing, in cooperation with the FAA, is now conducting test flights on the 787. For its part, the FAA is waiting until all the evidence is out so not to rush into rule-making conclusions.
“Based on what information our experts find, the FAA will take any action necessary to further ensure safety. We must finish this work before reaching conclusions about what changes or improvements the FAA should make going forward,” FAA Secretary Ray LaHood stated early this month. “The leading experts in this field are working to understand what happened and how we can safely get these aircraft back into service.” - Jon Ross