U.S. Safety Board Says Current Air Cargo Safety Rules for Lithium Batteries Pose Danger

By David Shepardson | June 9, 2020

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Monday urged strengthening air cargo shipping requirements for prototype and low-production lithium-ion batteries after a 2016 FedEx delivery truck fire in Canada.

NTSB official Robert J. Hall said existing rules pose a “danger to all those involved in the transportation of these batteries, on the ground and in the air.”

Four large custom-made batteries produced by Braille Battery were transported by FedEx Corp from Tampa to Indianapolis and then on to Toronto, Ontario. The batteries ignited about 10 hours after being offloaded at the Toronto airport.

The NTSB said the batteries may have qualified for an exemption in international shipping standards that allows for air transport of “prototype” or “low-production” batteries without passing some safety tests, and urged U.S. regulators to remove the exemption.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates transportation of potentially dangerous products, said it “will review the recommendations and respond appropriately.”

FedEx did not immediately comment.

NTSB said if the fire “occurred on an airplane, the event could have resulted in significant damage to or the loss of the airplane.”

NTSB wants the International Civil Aviation Organization to eliminating exceptions to testing before transport.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed a $1.1 million civil penalty against Braille Battery in 2017 for allegedly violating the Hazardous Materials Regulations. The NTSB said Braille failed to comply with federal regulations and international standards but said the incident raised concerns about the special rules.

The FAA prohibited Braille from shipping lithium batteries by air for two years but rescinded the order in July 2018 after determining Braille was complying with regulations. Braille’s parent Braille Energy Systems Inc did not immediately comment.

The NTSB said the penalty was later reduced to $235,000, which Braille is required to pay by September 2021.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

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