WASHINGTON (June 8, 2020) ― The National Transportation Safety Board Monday called for a change in air cargo shipping requirements for some types of lithium-ion batteries.
The safety recommendations follow an investigation into the shipment of lithium-ion batteries that ignited while in transport on a delivery truck in Canada.
“Through international cooperation with Canadian authorities, we’ve uncovered a safety gap in how certain lithium-ion batteries are allowed to be transported,” said Robert J. Hall, Director of the NTSB Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations. “The current situation presents a danger to all those involved in the transportation of these batteries, on the ground and in the air.”
On June 2, 2016, four large custom-made batteries had been accepted for shipment by FedEx from the manufacturer, Braille Battery, in Sarasota, Florida. After FedEx subjected the batteries to its dangerous goods acceptance process, it transported them on its airplanes from Tampa, Florida, to Indianapolis, Indiana, and then on to Toronto, Ontario.
The batteries ignited about 10 hours after being offloaded at the Toronto airport. The resulting fire destroyed the FedEx delivery truck and its contents.
The investigation revealed that the batteries were not properly designed and packaged for shipment by the manufacturer, which resulted in damage to the cells, a short circuit, and thermal runaway that led to the fire.
The NTSB said the batteries may have qualified for an exemption in international shipping standards that allows for the air transport of “prototype” or “low-production” batteries without passing safety tests required of other lithium-ion batteries. Braille Battery did not apply for the exemption, and they failed to produce any documentation showing the battery design had undergone safety tests. The NTSB determined had such tests been conducted they would likely have created the conditions that caused the battery to fail and prevented this battery design from being accepted for shipment as air cargo.
NTSB investigators said batteries falling under the exemption may be unsafe if not properly tested and could result in a battery fire while being transported by air, potentially bringing down a cargo airliner.
To address this safety hazard, the NTSB issued two safety recommendations asking the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates the transportation of potentially dangerous products, to remove the exemption.
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