Business

Rechargeable Battery Group’s Explosive Problem: Airplanes

Citing flammability concerns, several airlines have banned bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries in recent months. PBRA: The Rechargeable Battery Association, the trade group that represents the makers of the batteries, hopes to work with airline regulators to find a balance on the issue.

The average passenger plane probably has hundreds of lithium-ion batteries on board at any time, stashed in luggage and carry-on bags for charging electronic devices. Shipping them in bulk, however, is proving to be a step further than many airlines are willing to go.

As Bloomberg Business reports, fear of cargo fires involving the devices has led 18 different airlines to ban bulk shipments. And that’s creating some big headaches for PBRA: The Rechargeable Battery Association, the trade group that represents the battery manufacturers.

“Anybody that ships lithium batteries is affected by this,” PBRA Executive Director George Kerchner told Bloomberg. “It has an impact on everybody, whether you’re a small business or a large business.”

What’s Causing the Trouble?

Regulators, industry groups, and airlines have increasingly targeted batteries made with lithium in an attempt to minimize fire risk. Earlier this year, the International Air Transport Association banned the shipment of lithium metal batteries, which cannot be recharged, as cargo on passenger jets.

“Though widely used, most people are not aware that lithium batteries are dangerous goods and can pose a safety risk if not prepared in accordance with the transport regulations,” IATA wrote in a resource document.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, meanwhile, have been banned voluntarily by many prominent airlines. United Airlines banned the shipment of the devices in March, just months after the airline had restricted how it would accept the battery cells.

A separate risk mitigation guide by IATA, focused on both rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries, points the finger at bad actors who may not follow proper safety protocols.

“There remain, however, a number of systemic problems with lithium batteries,” IATA noted. “Their ubiquitous nature means that people who are completely unaware of the dangerous goods regulations and the requirements for lithium batteries are shipping them as cargo and in mail. Worse still, unscrupulous individuals are prepared to flout the requirements and put passengers and crew at risk.”

Taking A Regulatory Role

For its part, PBRA is looking for solutions, especially given that the devices now represent three-quarters of the battery market. Earlier this month, the association pledged to work on the issue with the International Civil Aviation Organization Dangerous Goods Panel, a United Nations regulatory body.

“Safety continues to be PRBA’s No. 1 priority, as it is for regulators, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers,” PBRA’s Kerchner said in a news release. “PRBA welcomes the opportunity to play a role in this regulatory initiative that will have far-reaching implications on the lithium battery industry and thousands of entities involved in the shipping, handling, and transport of lithium batteries.”

For now, Bloomberg Business notes, the industry will have to contend with ongoing problems created by the shipping bans, including supply-chain headaches in some regions.

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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