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Lithium Batteries Reducing Risk

Issue 16 - 2023
Lithium Batteries Reducing Risk

In the Global Media Days of IATA, David Brennan Head, Cargo Safety & Dangerous Goods made a speech on Lithium Batteries.

David Brennan underlined that Lithium batteries are classified as dangerous goods based on the inherent hazards of the lithium cells and batteries  and the dangerous goods regulations address the risks that are posed by lithium batteries in transport.

All lithium cell and battery types must pass up to 8 different tests as specified in the United Nations (UN) Manual of Tests and Criteria. These tests include an altitude simulation where lithium cells and batteries are subjected to a reduced pressure equivalent to 50,000 ft (15,200 m) for 6 hours, and a thermal test where cells and batteries are stored for at least 6 hours at a temperature of 72°C (161.6°F) followed by 6 hours at -40°C (-40°F), repeated 10 times. Cells and batteries are also subjected to vibration, shock, short circuit and crush tests. These tests are designed to verify that the cell and battery types are safe to transport. The manufacturer of lithium cells and batteries is required to develop and implement a quality management system to ensure that the cells and batteries being manufactured all meet the same specifications as those subjected to the design type tests. Manufacturers and subsequent distributors of lithium cells or batteries, including equipment containing lithium cells and batteries, must make available a test summary that identifies that the cells or batteries have passed the applicable tests set out in subsection 38.3 of the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria. 

The regulations on the transport of lithium batteries take a risk-based approach regarding the type and size of lithium batteries that are permitted as cargo on a passenger aircraft versus those that are restricted to carriage on a cargo aircraft. All shipments of lithium metal batteries and lithium ion batteries when shipped by themselves, i.e., when not packed with the equipment the battery powers or installed in equipment, are restricted to carriage on a cargo aircraft. Lithium ion cells and batteries are required to be shipped at a state of charge not exceeding 30% of their rated capacity. In addition, shipments are restricted to carriage on a cargo aircraft where the weight of lithium batteries in a package exceeds 5 kg. This applies to all shipments including where the packages contain lithium batteries packed with the equipment the battery powers and lithium batteries installed in equipment.

It is the shipper’s responsibility, as with all dangerous goods, to sign a declaration that the dangerous goods have been prepared in accordance with and meet all applicable provisions of the regulations. The airlines take this legal declaration as evidence that, in the case of lithium ion batteries, they are in a state of charge not exceeding 30% and that the battery design has passed all the required UN tests. If the shipper fails to comply with the regulations and this is identified, then the airlines report the incident to their regulatory authority. It is expected that the regulatory authorities then take appropriate action against the shipper for non-compliance. 

Airlines are required to conduct a safety risk assessment that includes consideration of the hazard posed by cargo, mail and baggage that will be carried, the quantity of these that will carried on an aircraft, where they will be loaded, as well as the risks posed by the entities in the supply chain that offer cargo and mail, which may include lithium batteries that have not been properly prepared in accordance with the regulations. Having identified the potential risks, the airline then must develop and implement mitigations that reduce the risks to a level that is acceptable to the airline. Based on the identified safety risks, these mitigations could include such things as: additional screening of cargo and passenger baggage to identify lithium batteries that are not permitted or that do not comply with the regulations and the use of aircraft containers that are capable of withstanding a fire involving lithium batteries to supplement the fire suppression capabilities of the aircraft.


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