U.S. Transportation Agencies Ban Lithium-Ion Batteries from Cargo on Passenger Aircraft

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have announced a new Interim Final Rule banning the transportation of lithium-ion batteries in passenger aircraft cargo.

The new rule also requires lithium-ion batteries transported on cargo planes to have no more than a 30 percent charge.

There appears to be no exception for video crews using lithium-ion batteries when reviewing the 90-page order on the new rules. The full order can be found here.

The rules were announced by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. The regulation is intended to prevent potentially catastrophic fires aboard passenger and cargo aircraft that may result from faulty lithium-ion batteries. These batteries have been prone to catching on fire and exploding when they overheat.

Travelers flying in passenger aircraft retain the option of packing lithium-ion batteries in their carry-on luggage. This includes devices with non-removable batteries, such as phones and laptops, as well as standalone batteries, including power banks and spare cameras batteries.

The Interim Final Rule follows the FAA's 2017 proposal for a global ban on lithium-ion batteries in checked airline luggage. The recommendation was made based on tests conducted by the FAA, which found that fires caused by lithium-ion batteries in a plane's cargo hold could potentially result in the loss of an aircraft.

“The safe transport of lithium batteries by air has been an ongoing concern due to the unique challenges they pose to safety in the air transportation environment,” wrote the The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“Unlike other hazardous materials, lithium batteries contain both a chemical and an electrical hazard. This combination of hazards, when involved in a fire encompassing significant quantities of lithium batteries, may exceed the fire suppression capability of the aircraft and lead to a catastrophic loss of the aircraft.”

Zack Shannon, channel sales executive at Core SWX, a film and video battery manufacturer based in New York City, said his company has been following rules implemented by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and it appeared the new rules for the U.S. follow them fairly closely.

The IATA allows video crews to bring a camera with an attached battery and up to 15 lithium-ion batteries rated at 100-watt hours or under on board. The 15 battery limit is not addressed in the the new rules and is unclear. What is clear is that video crews cannot ship batteries in a plane’s cargo section.

“There may be some confusion at airports,” Shannon said. “To play it safe, we suggest crews always carry their batteries on board the plane. TSA may not be as educated as the passengers and may think the batteries are not approved for flight.”

Video battery manufacturers may seek clarification during the comment period before the new rules go into effect in 90 days.

The amendments will not restrict passengers or crew members from bringing personal items or electronic devices containing lithium cells or batteries aboard aircraft, or restrict the air transport of lithium ion cells or batteries when packed with or contained in equipment.

To accommodate persons in areas potentially not serviced daily by cargo aircraft, PHMSA, through the requirement in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, is providing a limited exception, with the approval of the Associate Administrator, for not more than two replacement lithium cells or batteries specifically used for medical devices to be transported by passenger aircraft.

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