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Some Progress in Passenger Safety as ICAO Bans Lithium Cargo

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Reuters is reporting that the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has formally banned carriage of Lithium batteries on commercial passenger aircraft.

The ban takes effect as of April 1, and would remain in place “until a new fire-resistant packaging standard is designed to transport the batteries,” Reuters reports.

ICAO Council President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu says the new packaging standards are expected to go into effect by 2018, and the ban is mandatory for all ICAO member states.

Whether any such reliably fire resistant containers could be developed is an open question. Given the results of the FAA’s fire testing it would require challenging manufacturing standards, but we’ll address the manufacturing possibilities in-depth separately.

Particularly confusing, though, is why the possibility would be open for passenger planes in future. It’s important to understand the demand in remote regions along the supply chain, IATA told me in December, where that may be the only viable option for transport.

Readers known I have my own strong biases on these power sources, but for now this is one step, however small, in a better direction.

By instituting this ban, ICAO at least acknowledges the ongoing concerns expressed by industry safety experts and gives necessary backing to regulators to enforce safety rules. Whether all shippers will comply remains an open question. Unscrupulous individuals exist. But better a clear standard on the books than leaving everything vague for airlines to pick and choose if and when they will comply.

What we must not ignore is the well being of crew flying cargo aircraft. Lithium batteries can still be transported on cargo planes. While regulatory updates for better HazMat handling were established by the FAA and NTSB this month, shipper compliance will need to be carefully monitored.

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