Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous and, unfortunately, quite volatile when they overheat. The explosive nature of these batteries has previously raised safety concerns among US transportation officials who worry an explosion in an airplane’s cargo hold could have catastrophic consequences. Following a past study highlighting the potential danger of lithium-ion batteries in aircraft cargo holds, the FAA and DOT have announced a major new rule impacting checked baggage.
In October 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed new rules that would ban lithium-ion batteries from checked airline luggage. The proposal followed a study that found a fire started by a lithium-ion battery in a plane’s cargo hold could potentially overcome the plane’s fire containment system — in a worst case scenario, the FAA warned, the fire may even take down an aircraft.
The primary issue, based on the FAA’s study, was the presence of other flammable substances often packed in checked luggage. Aerosol cans were the primary issue, the researchers found; a fire started by a lithium-ion battery could cause aerosol cans to explode, potentially damaging the plane’s fire suppression system and resulting in an uncontrollable fire.
Packing lithium-ion batteries in carry-on luggage helps prevent this issue by enabling passengers and airline employees to directly extinguish any fire that results from a faulty consumer device or overheated battery. Following the FAA’s original proposal, multiple airlines made the decision to ban ‘smart’ luggage in December 2017, but now the FAA and Department of Transportation are taking things a step farther.
In an announcement today, the DOT said its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has joined the FAA in issuing a new Interim Final Rule involving lithium-ion batteries and cells.
Aircraft passengers will no longer be allowed to pack these batteries in checked baggage; as well, cargo companies will no longer be allowed to ship li-ion batteries that have more than a 30-percent charge. However, air travelers will still be allowed to bring devices with lithium-ion batteries onboard the plane, as well as packing the items in their carry-on luggage.