Thursday, December 12, 2019

Shipping Lobby Says More Controls Needed for Lithium Batteries Carried as Air Cargo

Airline and Freight Forwarding Representatives Step Up Pressure
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – The International Air Transport Association (IATA), in partnership with the Global Shippers Forum (GSF), the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) and the International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), are amplifying their efforts to ensure the safe air transport of lithium batteries.

The organisations are also renewing calls for governments to crack down on manufacturers of counterfeit batteries and of mislabelled and non-compliant shipments introduced into the supply chain, by issuing and enforcing criminal sanctions on those responsible.

In 2010 we wrote of the forty or so serious air accidents which had been linked to lithium batteries in the previous two decades. These mostly involved the batteries carried as freight and several deaths were involved in cases where cargo aircraft were lost, with the implication that the batteries had been the likely cause. In 2013 the carriage of the batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft was suspended.

Boeing cured their ‘smoking battery’ problem which grounded the new Dreamliner fleet with a design change and by securing the lithium packs in a box, the battery type being an essential component of the huge planes. Consumer demand for lithium batteries is growing by 17% annually and with it, the number of incidents involving misdeclared or undeclared lithium batteries has also risen. Nick Careen, IATA's Senior Vice President, Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security, commented:

"Dangerous goods, including lithium batteries, are safe to transport if managed according to international regulations and standards. But we are seeing an increase in the number of incidents in which rogue shippers are not complying. The industry is uniting to raise awareness of the need to comply. This includes the launching of an incident reporting tool so that information on rogue shippers is shared. And we are asking governments to get much tougher with fines and penalties."

The campaign includes three specific initiatives;

  • New incident reporting and alert system for airlines: An industry information sharing platform has been launched to target misdeclared consignments of lithium batteries. The reporting system will allow real-time information about dangerous goods incidents to be reported in order to identify and eradicate acts of deliberate or intentional concealment and misdeclaration.

  • Industry awareness campaign on the dangers of shipping undeclared and misdeclared lithium batteries: A series of dangerous goods awareness seminars are being held across the world targeting countries and regions where compliance has been challenging. In addition, an education and awareness programme for customs authorities has been developed in collaboration with the World Customs Organization (WCO).

  • Facilitation of a joined-up industry approach: Industry has put its support behind an initiative presented by the UK, New Zealand, France and the Netherlands at the recent Assembly of the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which calls for adoption of a cross-domain approach to include aviation security, manufacturing standards, customs and consumer protection agencies. Currently air cargo is scanned for items that pose a risk to security such as explosives, but not safety such as lithium batteries.

Governments must also play their role with much stricter enforcement of international regulations to ensure the safe transport of these vital shipments. The four trade associations urge regulators to follow through with significant fines and penalties for those who circumvent regulations for the transport of lithium batteries. Glyn Hughes, IATA's Global head of Cargo, said:

"Safety is aviation's top priority. Airlines, shippers and manufacturers have worked hard to establish rules that ensure lithium batteries can be carried safely. But the rules are only effective if they are enforced and backed-up by significant penalties. Government authorities must step up and take responsibility for stopping rogue producers and exporters. Abuses of dangerous goods shipping regulations, which place aircraft and passenger safety at risk, must be criminalised."

Lithium batteries carried by passengers remain a safety focus for airlines. Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) guidance is available to travellers in eight languages detailing what items must be packed in carry-on baggage.

Photo: This still from an FAA video made after two 747 freighters were lost with their lithium battery cargo feared responsible.