DOT warns about lithium battery dangers

 - October 29, 2009, 6:07 AM

The Department of Transportation released a safety advisory in the Federal Register last month warning of potential dangers posed by carrying lithium batteries on board commercial passenger and cargo aircraft.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, in coordination with the FAA, published the advisory to highlight recent aviation incidents involving lithium batteries, outline the current regulatory requirements for the safe transportation of lithium batteries and announce that the two agencies are stepping up enforcement action.

Since 1991, more than 40 air transport-related incidents involving lithium batteries and devices powered by lithium batteries have been identified. Many of those incidents were directly related to the lack of awareness of the regulations, risks and required safety measures applicable to the shipment of lithium batteries.

In July, the FAA issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) recommending procedures for fighting fires caused by lithium- type batteries in portable electronic devices (PED). The SAFO recommended that procedures be included in operators’ manuals, operations and training.

While the DOT prohibits carrying spare lithium batteries in checked luggage, a PED with batteries installed may be checked. In carry-on luggage, any number of some types of lithium battery, such as the ones used in cellphones and most laptop computers, can be carried provided measures are taken to cover the terminals of the spares.