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IATA Highlights Challenges with Non-Compliant Lithium Battery Shippers, Lack of Government Enforcement

Rogue shippers’ risk to lithium air cargo safety

Lithium batteries pose risks for air cargo safety because of “rogue shippers” and a failure to enforce regulations, the head of the trade body for the world’s airlines has warned.

Alexandre de Juniac (right), director-general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the batteries “can be shipped safely if properly labelled and packaged”.

But de Juniac said: “With respect to the safety of air cargo, transport of lithium batteries is the most topical issue.”

“The problem is that the global standards are being ignored by rogue shippers,” de Juniac told the World Cargo Symposium in Singapore.

And the IATA chief accused governments of “not enforcing the rules”— such as global technical standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and IATA’s dangerous goods regulations.

“In some cases, we see more effort going into stopping counterfeit production of Louis Vuitton bags than lithium batteries,” de Juniac added. “Lithium batteries are a safety risk and we need governments to do better at enforcement.”

De Juniac’s remarks came just weeks after the US said airlines would be barred from carrying “potentially hazardous lithium-ion cells and batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft”.

The crackdown means the US is adopting ICAO requirements that have been in force in other countries since 2016.

PRBA, Trade Groups Urge DOT to Delay Immediate Enforcement of New Package Labeling Rules for Lithium Batteries Shipped by Highway and Rail

PRBA – The Rechargeable Battery Association with seven other trade associations have asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to delay enforcement of new mandates to place additional labels on packages of lithium ion cells and batteries shipped by highway or rail.

In a letter to a DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration official, the eight trade associations reiterated their support for the Agency’s efforts to harmonize the U.S. lithium battery air transport regulations with more stringent international standards. However, the associations noted the necessity for a new compliance deadline of no earlier than July 6, 2019 for highway and rail transport “to allow time for implementation of the new package label requirement without unduly disrupting transportation and commerce.”

This concern is “substantial,” the letter noted, because “a very large volume of new and used lithium ion batteries are shipped and transported daily by highway and rail in the U.S. that are now subject to the new label requirements.”

PHMSA’s new label requirement is part of the agency’s long-awaited Interim Final Rule intended to harmonize the U.S. lithium battery hazardous materials regulations with the ICAO Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods.

However, PHMSA provided no warning that a new rule would address a new label for packages of lithium ion batteries shipped by road or rail or impose a March 6 compliance deadline, the letter said.

As a result, “thousands of offerors and carriers who in good faith comply with applicable rules likely now find themselves out of compliance because, as a practical matter, they are unable to immediately obtain new labels, train personnel, and implement new labeling procedures,” the letter said.

PHMSA should issue a “Notice of Enforcement Policy” that would allow time for implementation of the new requirement and stipulate that no enforcement action be taken until July 6 against companies and shippers currently in compliance with the existing regulations when the agency issued its March 6 Interim Final Rule, the letter recommended.

The letter’s signatories are:

PRBA – The Rechargeable Battery Association
Medical Device Battery Transport Council
Council On Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles
Dangerous Goods Advisory Council

Power Tool Institute
National Electrical Manufacturers Association
Outdoor Power Equipment Institute
International Vessel Operators Dangerous Goods Association

U.S. Department of Transportation New Lithium Battery Interim Final Rule Has Immediate Impact on All Modes of Transport

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published on March 6, 2019 its long-awaited lithium battery Interim Final Rule (IFR) that is intended to generally harmonize the U.S. lithium ion and lithium metal battery hazardous materials regulations (HMR) with the ICAO Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air.  The new requirements in the IFR took effect on March 6th.

There are several key provisions applicable to the air transport of lithium ion cells and batteries that are being adopted through this rulemaking.  These include:

  1. Limiting lithium ion cells and batteries to 30% state of charge (SOC). This SOC limit does not apply to cells and batteries packed with or contained in equipment.
  2. Prohibiting lithium ion cells and batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft. Again, this prohibition does not apply to cells and batteries packed with or contained in equipment.  In addition, PHMSA is providing a limited exception from this prohibition for lithium ion and lithium metal cells and batteries designed to power medical devices.
  3. Limiting the use of excepted lithium ion and lithium metal cell and battery shipments to one package per consignment.

Another important aspect of the IFR is that the U.S. DOT now requires an additional package mark and label for excepted lithium ion cells (≤ 20 Wh) and batteries (≤ 100 Wh) when shipped by highway or rail in the U.S.  The new package mark and label requirements, which took effect March 6th, are generally consistent with what has been required in the U.S. since December 2004 for shipping excepted lithium metal cells and batteries by motor vehicle or rail.

Public comments on the IFR must be filed with the U.S. DOT by May 6, 2019.