April 27, 2018 / 6:07 PM / in 6 months

Better battery packaging on planes overlooks other safety concerns - airlines

    By Allison Lampert and Jamie Freed
    MONTREAL/SINGAPORE, April 27 (Reuters) - New global
packaging standards expected in late 2018 will allow lithium-ion
batteries back into passenger plane cargo holds, pending design
and regulatory approval, but some airlines say the new rule
overlooks other safety concerns.
    It will reverse a 2016 suspension due to fire risks, but
some airlines argue that packaging alone will not fully protect
against cargo battery fires because battery shipments are
sometimes mislabeled. Airlines and battery makers want jet
designs to factor in better cargo fire-safety measures. 
    Carriers interviewed by Reuters described finding packages
of mislabeled lithium-ion batteries, often by shippers trying to
avert the ban. Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department, the
regulator of the world's busiest air cargo hub, flagged cases of
battery packages mislabeled in manifests as clothes, shoes and
toys in a 2017 notice to airlines. 
    It is not clear how many mislabeled battery packages are
transported by air, or discovered, but carriers fear it could
continue as some shippers try to avoid the anticipated higher
costs of proper packaging. 
    "The sheer number of batteries produced is growing and is
measured in the billions," said Association of Asia Pacific
Airlines Director-General Andrew Herdman. "There is a problem
with false declaration or non-declaration of such items."
    Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd          
conducts random checks to ensure packages are properly labeled,
but it can't "catch everyone," Rick Howell, general manager
group safety and security, said at a recent Montreal safety
conference.
    That's why Howell and others are also calling for new jet
models to include better cargo fire safety protections since
planes were designed before the battery threat.
    "Cargo holds of modern planes are lined with materials and
equipped with fire suppression systems that aren't designed to
contain a lithium ion battery fire," a spokeswoman for Germany's
Lufthansa           said.
    In January, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
identified at least 191 "events" involving lithium batteries
producing smoke, fire, extreme heat or explosions in the air or
at airports around the world since 1991.
    While there have been no reported passenger deaths due to a
battery fire, lithium-ion batteries were a contributing factor
in the crash of an Asiana Airlines Inc             flight that
killed the two pilots of a Boeing 747 freighter in 2011,
according to a report by Korea's Aviation and Railway Accident
Investigation Board.  The source of the fire that led to the
crash was not determined, but the batteries were a factor
because they were so flammable, the report said.
    Both Boeing and Airbus          said that they are working
with industry to improve aviation safety and already meet or
surpass standards.
    U.S.-based PRBA, the rechargeable battery association,
supports "robust" and "cost-effective" packaging standards but
also believes planemakers should factor into their designs "that
large volumes of dangerous goods are transported by air,"
director George Kerchner said.  
    New models such as Boeing's        proposed mid-market jet
could include modern fire-resistant materials as added
protection, airlines said.
    Aviation working groups are weighing new standards to
improve cargo safety, but talks are at an early stage, Rudy
Quevedo, the International Air Transport Association's (IATA)
director of safety, said.
    Modernizing planes would deliver an extra line of defense
against fires but add costs to an industry already investing
heavily in safety.
    But airplane design alone is not the most effective way to
prevent potential lithium-ion cargo hold battery fires, the FAA
believes. 
    "Operations, hazardous materials and airplane design have to
work as a system, with each element contributing to safety, but
no one element providing all the mitigations," a FAA spokesman
said.

 (Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Jamie Freed in
Singapore, additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom
Editing by Susan Thomas)
  
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