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Fed Officials Issue Interim Rule Covering Lithium Batteries On Planes

Biopilz/Creative Commons/Wikimedia Commons

Travelers won't be allowed to carry lithium batteries as cargo on passenger airlines under an interim U.S. Department of Transportation rule

The regulation, however, would not restrict passengers or flight crew members from taking personal items or electronic devices with lithium cells with them in airplane cabins.

Passengers are allowed to take lithium batteries with more than 100 watt hours in carry-on bags with an airline's approval but are limited to two spare batteries.

Federal transportation officials drafted the latest rule following multiple incidents reported since 1991 of lithium cells or batteries on board planes catching fire or smoldering.

At least three incidents of lithium batteries overheating have been reported in recent years on passenger and cargo flights arriving and departing from Honolulu, according to the department:

  • A laptop with a lithium-ion battery caught fire in the overhead bin of a Delta Airlines flight from Honolulu to Atlanta, Georgia, in December 2016. The crew put out the flames and the flight continued on without other problems.
  • In January 2016, a Hawaiian Airlines in flight to Maui received a cargo fire warning. The fire was extinguished and the plane landed wihout further incident. The source of the fire was an e-cigarette device with two batteries.
  • A Hawaiian Airlines ramp agent noticed an odor from a bag being loaded as baggage into an airplane in May 2014. The bag contained a Quadcopter drone with a lithium-ion battery. It was removed from the plane and put on the ground where it began to burn. The fire was doused with coffee.

"This rule will strengthen safety for the traveling public by addressing the unique challenges lithium batteries pose in transportation," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in a news release.
The rule also calls for lithium-ion cells and batteries to be shipped at no more than 30 percent charge on cargo aircraft when not packed with or contained in equipment.

The restrictions take effect once the rule is published in the Federal Register.

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