RAS Article

Lithium Batteries

Shortly after a Japan Airlines new Boeing B-787 Dreamliner arrived at Boston on January 7. 2013, a Lithium Ion battery caught fire. The battery system is an integral part of this aircraft which uses Li batteries to power its electrical systems. All Nippon Airways had a similar incident shortly thereafter. JAL & ANA have advised Boeing that they had replaced the batteries 10 times due to minor electrical problems. These incidents caused the FAA and the carriers operating this technology-advanced airliner to be grounded pending investigation of the fire. As of the end of January all Dreamliners are still grounded.

The Dreamliner is made of composite materials as opposed to the traditional aluminum and titanium. The composite materials melt at a much lower temperature than the metals. The fire could have caused a catastrophe if it would have happened during the flight.

Battery Pack from the JAL Dreamliner – NTSB Photo:

Yes, the battery was installed in the aircraft but it still had to be transported from the manufacturer to Boeing’s assembly facility. The manufacturer’s MSDS, last up-dated in 2009, makes no mention of compliance with the U.N. Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, sub-section 38.3, a vital transportation requirement.

The battery consists of 8 cells. Judging from the above picture, a number of batteries were assembled into a battery pack. Transportation regulations require sample cells to be tested, and if the tested cells are assembled into a battery, the sample battery must also be tested. The tests cover:

  • Test 1: Altitude Simulation
  • Test 2: Thermal Test
  • Test 3: Vibration
  • Test 4: Shock
  • Test 5: External Short Circuit
  • Test 6: Impact
  • Test 7: Overcharge
  • Test 8: Forced Discharge

We are not engineers nor chemists. But it would seem to us that altitude, temperatures, vibration, short circuits, and overcharge would be issues that will be investigated. Were these cells and batteries tested?

Our Soap Box

We rant and rave and preach about safety in transportation most of the time – this time it’s the economy, stupid (congress)

We don’t gamble. Not as a business. Not as an individual. Never did. Therefore, we find it difficult to understand why shippers, including manufacturers and distributors, and forwarders that ship lithium batteries will gamble that their shipments will get through scrutiny by carriers. Their failure to learn and then train their employees compromises safety in air transportation causing frustration and delays if the carriers spot the “errors”.

We see enforcement personnel numbed and frustrated by non-compliance to the point that they no longer seem to have the same old commitment to safety. This is a major problem.

At the very top of this newsletter we brought to your attention an addendum issued by IATA. Check the operator variations. Carriers not ordinarily governed by the U.S. FAA are now seeing the wisdom of banning lithium metal batteries on passenger-carrying aircraft. This will provide a financial boon to all cargo operators while also increasing their risks because shippers fail to follow safe practices, or personnel in the transportation chain are careless, or they simply do not understand the dangers involved…..or they just don’t care.

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We provide corrective packaging for dangerous goods shipments at New York Area Airports and hazmat training courses either in house or on location.

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