Lithium Cargo: A Safety Timebomb?

The airline industry remains so troubled by the potentially lethal consequences surrounding the shipment of highly combustible lithium batteries that it fears it risks becoming a safety timebomb.

Malaysia Airlines insists that the lithium battery cargo on board Flight 370 was being transported fully within industry rules.

In a statement, the airline said the items were classified as non-dangerous, were packed and checked several times in accordance with guidelines set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board, disappeared shortly after leaving Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am on March 8. It was scheduled to arrive in Beijing at 6.30 am on the same day. Various theories have been offered on its disappearance, including the possibility of a fire on board that incapacitated the crew.

Concern across the airline industry remains widespread, however. At a special workshop held last year IATA, Cathay Pacific safety chief Richard Howell told IHS Jane’s that there had been six lithium battery fire events at airports in 2012 alone, describing these as “the tip of the iceberg and a very real risk that is getting bigger and bigger all the time”.

Two to three lithium battery ‘events’ occur every month according to Chris Glaeser, IATA’s director of global safety, who told industry colleagues that the lithium battery issue was emerging  as “a second shock to the cargo world after the US-bound ink-toner cartridge explosives from Yemen were discovered at Dubai and [East Midlands Airport] in 2010. “I think it is not overblown to say that in safety we [the cargo sector] are 15 years behind our passenger colleagues,” said Glaeser.

Lithium battery fires have been cited as an “obvious factor” behind the loss of three cargo aircraft between 2006 and 2011 including the loss of a UPS B-747-F at Dubai in September 2010 where there were at least three shipments of 80,000 lithium batteries.

The airline industry is agreed that it needs to share information on lithium battery fire incidents as an industry through being able to tap into a centralised worldwide database. It also needs far better information on future battery technologies in order to handle the risk involved. Solutions could include the use of fire-retardant gels and passive fire-containment methods such as fire-resistant cargo holds, as well as active technologies to replace the current halon-based extinguishers.

Read More: Lithium cargo may provide clue to MH370 fate

This entry was posted in Airlines, Safety, Uncategorized.

One Response to Lithium Cargo: A Safety Timebomb?

  1. Alfredo Walter Nuñez Gonzalez says:

    bueno como controlador de transito aéreo lo que puedo decir solo es la responsabilidad de aduana