PHMSA Updates 49 CFR Lithium Battery Air Regulations

Posted on 2/28/2019 by Roger Marks

UPDATE: PHMSA's Final Rule to bolster the requirements for shipping lithium batteries by air appeared in the Federal Register on Wednesday, March 6. The Rule takes effect immediately. 

Read the Final Rule text here. 

New DOT Rules for Lithium Batteries by Air 

US DOT PHMSA will soon release an Interim Final Rule (IFR) to bolster the 49 CFR regulations for shipping lithium batteries by air. 

The updates in PHMSA’s IFR may look familiar to lithium battery shippers—these four new requirements were added to the ICAO Technical Instructions and the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations as “emergency revisions” in 2016. In other words, these rules have been on the books for air shippers for nearly three years already. This is a “catch-up rule” to harmonize US requirements with the latest international standards for lithium batteries. 

In related news, new markings and labels are now required on packages containing lithium batteries as of January 1, 2019. Learn more here. 

Need to catch up on changing rules for lithium batteries? The Shipping Lithium Battery Online Course is updated for 2019 and covers the changes PHMSA announced this week.

New 49 CFR Regs for Lithium Batteries By Air 

DOT’s Interim Final Rule will take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. Lion staff will update this post when that happens.

The harmonized lithium battery restrictions are as follows:

  • Prohibits the transport of standalone lithium-ion cells and batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft (batteries in- or with-equipment still allowed)
  • Requires lithium-ion cells and batteries to be shipped at not more than a 30% state-of-charge aboard Cargo Only Aircraft when not packed with or contained in equipment
  • Limits the use of alternative provisions for small lithium cell or battery shipments to one package per consignment or overpack.
  • Requires packages of excepted “small” lithium-ion batteries to be offered separately from all other cargo and prohibits pre-loaded these packages in a Unit Load Device (ULD).

Note: While the prohibition on lithium-ion cells and batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft is new for DOT, the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) already prohibit primary lithium-metal batteries on passenger planes.

A pre-publication version of the Interim Final Rule was submitted to the Federal Register on February 27.

In the New Jersey area? Join us for an instructor-led one-day workshop that covers what you need to know to ship lithium batteries by ground, air, or vessel on May 2. Reserve your seat now.

Medical Device Exception

PHMSA is adding a narrow exception for areas with limited cargo aircraft service. PHMSA will allow not more than two replacement lithium cells or batteries specifically used for medical devices to be transported by passenger aircraft.

The up-to-two replacement cells or batteries will also be excepted from the 30% state-of-charge restrictions.

New Requirement: Cargo Aircraft Only Label for Excepted Lithium Batteries: 

Under a newly added requirement included in the IFR, the following lithium battery ground shipments MUST display the Cargo Aircraft Only (CAO) label or one of three other markings (see “note” below):   

  • Excepted lithium batteries shipped alone (UN 3480 and 3090)
  • Excepted lithium batteries with a net weight greater than 5kg shipped in- or with-equipment (UN 3481 and 3091)

Shippers may use one of the following markings instead of the Cargo Aircraft Only label (as applicable):





The Good News for Lithium Battery Shippers

Because these requirements are already on the books for air shippers, this PHMSA rulemaking is simply a catch-up, or “harmonization,” rule. The Interim Final Rule officially updates US DOT’s 49 CFR hazmat regulations with existing international standards.

In plain terms, this means that if you ship lithium batteries by air, your shipments are likely already in compliance with these “new” domestic air shipping requirements.

Because this is a catch-up rulemaking, and because the FAA Authorization Act of 2018 requires PHMSA to add these requirements quickly, US DOT is not promulgating this rule through the normal public comment process. The Agency is instead working to finalize the rule as quickly as possible.

Unique FedEx and UPS Rules for Lithium Batteries

In addition to more stringent regulations from ICAO and US DOT, FedEx and UPS added new restrictions to their own Operator Variations in the 2017 IATA DGR. The FedEx and UPS restrictions go above and beyond what’s required under Federal or international regulations.

In short, FedEx and UPS no longer accept for air transport stand-alone lithium-ion or -metal batteries prepared under Section II of the corresponding Packing Instruction (PI). To be accepted by FedEx Express or UPS Air, these lithium battery shipments must be prepared using Section IA or IB of the IATA DGR Packing Instruction 965 (lithium-ion) or 968 (lithium-metal).

This means that the following requirements apply if you ship lithium batteries, by themselves, by air, by UPS or FedEx:

  • UN specification packaging (for Section IA shipments)

  • Strong rigid outer packaging (for Section IB shipments)

  • UN # and Proper Shipping Name marked on the package (as well as other fully-regulated marks)

  • A new Class 9 lithium battery label (Mandatory as of 1/1/19)

  • Shipping Declaration that fully and accurately describes the shipment

More about lithium batteries with FedEx and UPS

2019 Training for Lithium Battery Shippers

Be confident your lithium battery shipments will be accepted for transport and delivered safely by ground, air, or ocean. Whether you ship lithium-ion or lithium-metal batteries, full-size or excepted size, in-equipment, with-equipment, or by themselves - find training to help you achieve and maintain full compliance with 49 CFR, IATA DGR, and IMDG Code regulations for 2019. 

Learn more at 

Tags: DOT, hazmat shipping, IATA, lithium batteries, new rules

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