Last February 4 to 6, 2014, the first ever meeting for the ICAO International Multidisciplinary Lithium Battery Transport Coordination was hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) William J. Hughes Technical Center. Various ICAO representatives and other officials from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), United States Department of Transportation (FAA flight standards, hazardous materials, technical center, and airworthiness), and the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations (ICCAIA), as well as associates from the Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA), experts of the Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP), and battery manufacturers (National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) were in attendance. The conference was conducted and hosted by the FAA Terminal Center director, Dennis Filler.
The meeting was divided into three parts:
1. Test demonstrations and presentations
It was found out that the batteries used in the tests were not really packaged to comply with dangerous goods transportation by air. Two methods were used to heat the cells into thermal runaway. One was with the use of a small alcohol fire to heat the cells and initiate thermal runaway. This provides a heat source that is low-intensity, which stimulates the temperature of a suppressed cargo compartment, while supplying ignition force for the electrolyte when it vents. The other method used in the tests involved an electric heater to increase the temperature of the cell to initiation of the thermal runaway, which is around 190 degrees Celsius for lithium metal batteries.
The chief of the ICAO flight operations section made a presentation regarding risk mitigation, which included detailed reference to the ICAO Safety Management Manual (SMM). He then presented a worksheet that indicates the hazard identification and risk mitigation process. With the analysis made, it was suggested that dangerous goods shipping, particularly the lithium metal batteries on passenger aircrafts posed serious risks under the current circumstances. The likelihood of an event occurring is remote, but the gravity of the consequences could be catastrophic.
2. Other considerations
A discussion was made to focus on whether a distinction between a passenger and cargo aircraft for dangerous goods transport. It was acknowledged that the most commonly used fire suppressant on passenger aircrafts is not enough to deal with fires that involve such batteries. Hence, a general agreement was made that a distinction should be made because various mitigation strategies can be employed on cargo aircraft. There should also be a consideration of a further restriction, which can include a prohibition on the carriage on a passenger aircraft.
Additionally, it was recognized that fire suppression is one critical system contained in the FAA and EASA requirements, implying that when lithium metal batteries are to be transported by air, an operator would need to demonstrate an ability to control and keep the aircraft safe from a fire involving batteries.
3. Development and conclusions of recommendations
It was made clear to the group that the fires in flight that involve certain lithium metal battery types and quantities could possibly result in an uncontrolled fire and a tragic failure of the airframe. The multidisciplinary group was advised by the ICCAIA that there was a predication of the protection capabilities and certification of original equipment manufacturers’ airframes and systems on carriage of general cargo, not the unique hazards associated with dangerous goods shipping.