NTSB Calls for Stricter Lithium Battery Air Shipping Regs

Posted on 6/10/2020 by Roger Marks

On Monday, June 8, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced recommendations to close what they call a “safety gap” in how lithium-ion batteries are transported by air.

NTSB's lithium battery safety recommendations result from an investigation of a 2016 lithium battery fire aboard a delivery truck. Per NTSB's Safety Recommendations Report, the fire started ten hours after the batteries were unloaded from a plane in Toronto.

NTSB offered the following lithium battery safety recommendations to US DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) include:
  • That PHMSA petition the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to remove special provision A88 from its Technical Instructions (TI).

  • Petition ICAO to eliminate exceptions to the lithium battery testing criteria in the UN Manual of Test and Criteria, Part III, Sub sec 38.3. 

  • If and when SP A88 is removed from the ICAO TI, NTSB recommends that PHMSA remove the exemption to UN 38.3 testing for low-production and prototype lithium-ion batteries transported by air at 49 CFR 173.185(e).

These are recommendations, not new regulations. If PHMSA responds to or takes up NTSB's recommendations, we will update this post. 

What is Lithium Battery SP A88?

An approval  under ICAO special provision A88 permits the transport of low-production or prototype lithium-ion cells that have not yet been tested to the standards in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria. 

While special provision A88 provides some relief, shippers must comply with stringent requirements to take advantage of the special provision. SP A88 and 49 CFR 173.185(e) require appropriate packaging, cushioning material, measures to minimize the effects of vibration and shocks, preventing movement of batteries within the package, and more. 

After the 2016 fire, FAA issued its largest hazmat civil penalty in history–$1.1 million—for alleged violations including:
  • Failure to meet UN test standards (49 CFR 173.185(a)(1))
  • Failure to provide hazmat employee training (172.704)
  • Improper preparation of batteries for transport (173.185(a)(3)(iii))
  • Improper packaging of lithium batteries (173.21(c))
  • Failure to obtain the proper exemption or special permit (171.2(b)) 

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