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FAA Issues Critical SAFO on Lithium Batteries in Carry-on and Checked Luggage

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UPDATE: The FAA has issued an ammendment widening the scope of this to SAFO, as follows:

The purpose paragraph of SAFO 15010 was amended to include “and part 129 foreign air carriers.”

The FAA has published a SAFO (Safety Alert for Operations) 15010, updating policy on carriage of spare Lithium batteries in passenger carry-on and checked luggage, including carry-on baggage checked at the gate or from on-board an aircraft, which will affect how we carry spare Lithium batteries NOT USED EXPRESSLY for Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs), medical electronic devices, and mobility aids.

For this SAFO, “spare” refers to lithium batteries not installed in a portable electronic device, which would include any batteries used in other products which are not expressly PEDs. The interpretation here is that the SAFO affects spare batteries we might carry with us to power up our devices when they run low, and batteries installed in luggage which are meant to serve a secondary purpose of charging or motorisation.

As the FAA states:

Lithium batteries present a risk of both igniting and fueling fires in aircraft cargo/baggage compartments. To reduce the risk of lithium battery fires, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR), and equivalent International Civil Aviation Organization’s Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods (ICAO TI), prohibit spare lithium batteries from checked baggage (including baggage checked at the gate or on-board the aircraft). The HMR and ICAO TI provide limited exceptions for passengers/crewmembers who carry-on spare lithium batteries intended for personal use (refer to 49 CFR § 175.10).

Recommended Action: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly urges certificate holders to consider the following actions:

  • Ensure all crewmembers and ground personnel handling passengers and baggage understand that they must report incidents where fire, violent rupture, explosion, or heat sufficient to be dangerous to packaging or personal safety to include charring of packaging, melting of packaging, scorching of packaging, or other evidence, occurs as a result of a battery or battery-powered device(per 49 CFR §171.15/16).
  • During ticket purchase and check-in processes, inform passengers that spare lithium batteries are prohibited from checked baggage (including checked baggage at the gate) and refer passengers to FAA’s Pack Safe website for additional information.
  • Evaluate training and communication protocols in operations with respect to lithium batteries, personal and medical electronic devices, and mobility aids. Distributed by: AFS-200 AFS-300
  • Prior to allowing a passenger or crewmember to offer their carry-on baggage to be checked from the gate or on-board the aircraft, verbally inform them to remove all spare lithium batteries from their carry-on baggage.
  • For spare lithium batteries in carry-on baggage, ensure personnel understand the following:

o Each spare lithium battery must be individually protected so as to prevent short circuits (e.g., by placement in original retail packaging, by otherwise insulating terminals by taping over exposed terminals, or placing each battery in a separate plastic bag or protective pouch).

o Spare batteries must not come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys, or jewelry and take steps to prevent crushing, puncturing, or pressure on the battery.

o Batteries must not exceed the allowable quantity and size limitations (refer to 49 CFR § 175.10).

The FAA also provides a contact for questions or comments regarding this SAFO at the FAA Office of Hazardous Materials, ADG-200 at 202-267-9432.

Flight Chic and other industry publications have published a number of articles covering the risks of Lithium batteries, and highlighting the serious fire safety risks these power-sources pose to aircraft, in the cabin and in the hold. While alternative sources of power exist, and have existed for years, which would power many of our most commonly used gadgets well and which are less flammable and less likely to pose a threat to aviation, the technology sector has yet to consider such alternatives.

While the industry attempts to raise awareness of the threat, its hands are tied to take definitive action prohibiting the devices. Meanwhile today’s technology companies continue to find clever work-arounds to transport batteries en masse on passenger aircraft avoiding Hazardous-Materials declarations by batching the packed batteries into boxes below limits then packing hundreds of those boxes on pallets.

Industry regulators are working to prevent this, but consumers must be made aware of the risks and take action demanding that the makers of their smartphones, cameras, laptops, and other Lithium-powered electronics shift to safer solutions.

Runaway fires from Lithium batteries have already taken the lives of several cargo pilots. If a passenger aircraft were brought down by such an incident, the world will be in an uproar to know why aviation didn’t do something about the issue sooner.

Please let this be a record that aviation has tried.

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