Lithium batteries are more hazardous as cargo for commercial jets than previously realized, The Wall Street Journal reported.
US Federal Aviation Administration tests have found that a mere handful of burning power cells can overwhelm typical cargo safety and fire-suppression systems on the planes, the report said.
International regulators and aviation industry officials increasingly worry about the dangers of highly flammable lithium batteries, and they are developing far-reaching packaging restrictions for their airborne carriage.
Their focus is on batteries as cargo, rather than those carried by passengers on board to power cellphones and other consumer electronics.
Reports released by the aviation arm of the United Nations, which is slated to consider tighter standards later this autumn, document those escalating concerns.
An FAA paper presented to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization in late July, for example, concluded that fewer than two dozen rechargeable lithium-ion batteries can emit explosive gases powerful enough to breach cargo panels and overwhelm typical firefighting systems in the belly of a Boeing 737 jetliner.
In an email Friday, an FAA spokeswoman said the tests demonstrated that the usual concentration of firefighting halon gas — typically used to fight cargo fires and the gases they produce — “is too low to prevent the ignition of these flammable gases” once heat transfers quickly from one lithium battery package to another in what engineers refer to as a “thermal runaway”.
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