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Friday April 8, 2011 3:41 pm

US House bars limitating lithium-ion battery shipments on planes

Lithium-ion batteries planeThe U.S. House of Representatives has passed a law that would bar the Obama administration from limiting shipments of lithium-ion batteries by air.

The proposed rule by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the FAA would have eliminated exceptions for small lithium batteries, classifying them as "Class 9" hazardous cargo, and requiring a number of labeling and other safety regulations.

The House will have to reconcile its legislation with the Senate before President Obama can sign a unified joint bill, as Bloomberg noted.

There have been numerous incidents of batteries short-circuiting, and many of those have involved airplanes. (The last major battery incident involved Sony, in 2008; that recall then, however, did not cover airplanes.) The proposed rule noted that out of 21 and 44 incidents involving lithium batteries since 1991 involved passenger aircraft; of those, 16 involved carry-on luggage, and one involved checked baggage. Twenty-three incidents involved cargo aircraft, presumably in pallets of batteries being transported by air.

"It is important to note that while each single incident may appear relatively benign and while the overall incident numbers may appear small when compared to the total number of lithium batteries transported by aircraft each year, the incidents illustrate the short circuit and fire risks posed by lithium batteries and the potential for a serious incident that could result if the risks as not addressed through transportation safety controls," the rule noted.

The battery industry had criticized the report, noting that it would burden battery makers with undue cost and red tape.

Some of the key changes in the regulations, now barred by the House bill, included:

"For air transportation, eliminate regulatory exceptions for lithium cells and batteries, other than certain exceptions for extremely small lithium cells and batteries that are shipped in very limited quantities such as button cells and other small batteries that are packed with or contained in equipment and those required for operational use in accordance with applicable airworthiness requirements and operating regulations."

"For all transport modes, require lithium cells and batteries to be packed to protect the cell or battery from short circuits."

"Unless transported in a container approved by the FAA Administrator, when transported aboard aircraft, limit stowage of lithium cells and batteries to crew accessible cargo locations or locations equipped with an FAA approved fire suppression system."

The latter regulation would have apparently barred spare batteries from being packed in luggage on passenger aircraft.

Good news, though: The regulations would allow a "limited state of small lithium batteries in the aircraft cabin," however, following a Dec. 2008 petition from the Air Transport Association of America.

"The petition states such necessary equipment includes electronic flight bags, onboard medical monitoring devices, portable oxygen concentrators, personal entertainment devices and credit card readers. We agree a need exists for airlines to use and maintain certain types of equipment that are increasingly powered by lithium batteries," the proposed rule says.

This article, written by Mark Hachman, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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