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FAA Issues Critical SAFO to Airlines on Lithium Batteries

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UPDATED: The FAA has updated the link to the SAFO from the one previously featured in this article which included a link to a previous SAFO also on lithium ion batteries . The link is now updated to the SAFO of today’s announcement. Relevant details of the SAFO have also been updated here. See Also: NTSB Finds Crash of Asiana Airlines 991 Calls for More Stringent Controls on Carriage of Lithium Batteries.

The FAA has issued a SAFO (Safety Alert for Operators) to airlines warning of the hazards of Lithium-Ion batteries.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) urges foreign commercial passenger and cargo airlines to conduct a safety risk assessment to manage the risks associated with transporting lithium batteries as cargo.

The FAA encourages airlines which previously conducted safety assessments to reevaluate them in light of new evidence from the agency’s recent lithium battery fire tests.

In 2015, FAA Tech Center testing showed that the ignition of the unburned flammable gases associated with a lithium battery fire could lead to a catastrophic explosion. The current design of the Halon 1301fire suppression system (concentration 5%) in a Class C cargo compartment in passenger airplanes is incapable of preventing such an explosion. In addition, tests also revealed that the ignition of a mixture of flammable gases could produce an over pressure, dislodging pressure relief panels, and thereby allowing leakage from the associated cargo compartment. This could lead to the spread of smoke and gases from the fire into occupied areas of the airplane. The number of cells necessary to produce this condition is small and can occur with just a few packages. Operators are encouraged to refer to SAFO 10017 for further information with the understanding that the recommendations contained in that SAFO may be amended with information sourced from continuing research, the SAFO states

The FAA has also issued guidance to its inspectors to help them determine whether airlines are adequately assessing risks. 

“FAA battery fire testing has highlighted the potential risk of a catastrophic aircraft loss due to damage resulting from a lithium battery fire or explosion. Current cargo fire suppression systems cannot effectively control a lithium battery fire. As a result of those tests, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus have advised airlines about the dangers associated with carrying lithium batteries as cargo and also have encouraged them to conduct safety risk assessments,” the agency states.

“Hazardous materials rules currently ban passenger airlines from carrying lithium-metal batteries as cargo. In addition, a number of large commercial passenger airlines have decided voluntarily not to carry rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries. The safety risk assessment process is designed to identify and mitigate risks for the airlines that still carry lithium batteries and to help those that don’t carry them from inadvertently accepting them for transport,” the agency continues.

The new SAFO follows a previous SAFO issue on carriage of Lithium-Ion batteries passenger baggage, and calls for specific actions by airlines to mitigate risks.

Before operators engage in the transport of lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft, or lithium ion or lithium metal batteries on cargo aircraft, be aware that ICAO and major airframe manufacturers (Boeing and Airbus) have recommended that operators perform safety risk assessments in order to establish whether, or how, they can manage the risk associated with the transport of these batteries. The FAA strongly supports these recommendations. The FAA encourages those operators who have previously performed a risk assessment to reevaluate their assessment in light of the further evidence gained through the recent testing of lithium batteries. Operators that have implemented a formal Safety Management System (SMS) should accomplish a Safety Risk Assessment (SRA), in accordance with the Safety Risk Management process in its SMS, the SAFO states.

The FAA recommends operators wishing to carry lithium ion batteries as cargo review the following mitigation strategies.

  • All lithium batteries per 49 CFR §171.2(e), 175.3, and 175.30(a) must comply with appropriate packaging and shipping requirements for dangerous goods;
  • High density packages of lithium batteries and cells increases risk;
  • Training of personnel who handle lithium batteries per 14 CFR §121.1001(a), 121.1003(a), and 49 CFR §172.704 must include information on the dangers associated with any lithium battery: the proper labelling; the proper loading; the proper rejection criteria for damaged shipments; and emergency response procedures in the event of a heat/smoke/fire event involving lithium batteries.

Among the factors (but not limited to) that operators should consider when transporting lithium ion batteries the FAA lists:

  • The types, quantities and the frequency of carriage of lithium batteries (including state of charge of the battery, if known);
  • Evaluation of the fire protection features of each model of aircraft they operate;
  • The operator’s specific lithium battery acceptance requirements for packaging, state of charge, and any other limitations placed upon the shipper;
  • The history of the shipper’s compliance with dangerous goods transport regulations;
  • The means of loading and limitations on lithium battery shipments within the cargo compartment of cargo aircraft or lithium ion batteries within the cargo compartment of passenger aircraft, e.g., bulk loaded, containers, covered pallets;
  • The containment characteristics of Unit Load Devices (ULD);
  • The specific hazards and safety risks associated with each battery and cell type to be carried alone or in combination;
  • The chemical composition of the batteries and cells;

 

Location of batteries in the cargo compartment, including proximity to other batteries, and proximity to other dangerous goods.

 

The FAA requires the following notification procedures for the flight crew:

o Location of the batteries in the cargo compartment;
o Accessibility of the batteries to the crew;
o Quantity of items being shipped;
o The capability of the crew to fight an in-flight lithium battery fire.

On a previous SAFO issued late last year, regarding the carriage of spare lithium ion batteries the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had strongly urged certificate holders to consider the following actions:

  • Ensure all crew members 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.
  • 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:

This SAFO additionally advised:

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).

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.

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

This strong language and decisive action by the FAA is a welcome step forward, and more than warranted. Rogue manufacturers of Lithium-Ion batteries and Lithium-Ion battery powered devices continue to exploit loopholes to sneak their batteries onboard as cargo.

This January 27, US Customs and Border Patrol ceased a shipment of over 16,000 potentially dangerous counterfeit hover boards in Chicago.

Flight Chic confirmed with the representatives of Customs and Border Patrol that at least a portion of these units had been shipped by air, although the agency was unable to provide further details on the shipments after Flight Chic requested it.

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