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Hazardous Materials: Enhanced Safety Provisions for Lithium Batteries Transported by Aircraft

Transporting lithium batteries by air is an ongoing concern due to the unique challenges the batteries pose to safety while in transit.  Tests conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Technical Center and the National Transportation Safety Board demonstrate that current packages, hazardous materials handling requirements, shipping configurations, and cargo compartment fire protection systems do not provide adequate protection and may be unable to effectively mitigate a fire created or fueled by lithium batteries. 

In an effort to enhance the safety of the traveling public and transportation workers, PHMSA and the FAA issued an interim final rulemaking that updates regulations pertaining to the transport of lithium batteries by aircraft.  The rule:

  • prohibits the transport of lithium ion cells or batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft;

  • requires lithium ion cells and batteries to be shipped at not more than a 30 percent state of charge aboard cargo-only aircraft when not packed with or contained in equipment;

  • limits the use of alternative provisions for small lithium cell or battery shipments;

  • further aligns U.S. transportation regulations specific to lithium batteries with standards prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO);

  • does not restrict passengers or crew members from bringing personal items or electronic devices containing lithium batteries aboard aircraft in carry-on or checked baggage.

Why is this rule important? Unlike other hazardous materials, lithium batteries contain both a chemical and an electrical hazard.  The combination of hazards, when involved in a fire encompassing significant quantities of lithium batteries, could exceed the fire suppression capability of an aircraft and lead to a catastrophic lithium battery event. Additionally, harmonization between the U.S. Hazardous Materials Regulations and the ICAO Technical Instructions creates consistency in hazardous materials transportation standards both internationally and domestically.

For more details about the rule's requirements, read the full text of the rule located in the related links section to the right of this page.

Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019