Australia rejects ban on air shipment of batteries

Australia has joined nine other nations in voting against a ban on rechargeable battery shipments on passenger airliners.


A UN aviation panel rejected the ban despite evidence they can cause explosions and unstoppable, in-flight fires, aviation officials told The Associated Press.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation panel on dangerous goods voted 10 to seven against a ban, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to speak about the vote publicly.

The United States, Russia, Brazil, China and Spain, as well as organisations representing airline pilots and aircraft manufacturers, voted in favour of the ban.

Australia, The Netherlands, Canada, France, Italy, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom, as well as the International Air Transport Association, a global airline trade group, voted against it.

Billions of the lithium-ion batteries are used to power consumer electronics, ranging from mobile phones and laptops to power tools and toothbrushes. Tens of thousands of the batteries are often shipped on a single plane.

US Federal Aviation Administration government tests show small quantities of overheated lithium-ion batteries can cause explosions that can disable aircraft fire protection systems.

The explosions knock panels off the interior walls of cargo compartments, allowing halon gas – the fire suppression system used in airliners – to escape and dissipate.

With no halon, a fire could rage unchecked and lead to the destruction of the plane.

The aviation organisation, also called ICAO, is the United Nations agency that sets international aviation standards. It’s up to each country to decide whether to follow the standards, but most do.

Angela Stubblefield, the US representative on the panel, spoke in favour of the ban, as did an official from the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations.

Opponents of the ban argued that the decision on whether to accept battery shipments should be left up airlines, the officials said.

As the result of the US testing, nearly 30 airlines around the world say they no longer accept bulk battery shipments as cargo, but many other airlines continue to accept the shipments.

The battery industry and companies that rely on battery shipments have long said that the problem should be addressed by cracking down on shady battery makers who don’t use proper shipping procedures.

Battery industry officials didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.