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Setting the Scene

Global demand for lithium batteries has increased exponentially powering everything from mobile phones to electronic toothbrushes. Lithium batteries are safe to ship by air if packaged correctly however, the sheer volume of products being moved by air containing these dangerous goods has increased the safety risk. Andres Bianchi, CEO, LATAM Cargo and Bill Schoonover, Associate Administrator for Hazardous Materials Safety, US Department of Transport highlighted three priorities for the industry.

The first is ensuring that regulation is fit for purpose. Existing safety standards need to be adapted in a timely fashion to reflect the new reality, in terms of both battery volumes and density. Since 2010 there has been a threefold increase in battery density. The pandemic demonstrated that regulation can be adapted at speed. This same urgency needs to be applied to updating lithium battery regulation. It won’t save as my lives as the delivery of vaccines, but one is enough.

The second priority is prosecuting rogue shippers. Three categories of shippers were identified; those following all requirements, those that want to but make a mistake, those that are not aware of the regulations and those that are willingly not complying to save money. Both panelists agreed that there needs to be harsher enforcement of penalties and criminalization of those that flout the rules deliberately. And to ensure that all shippers are aware of the regulations, implementation of an industry wide awareness campaign was recommended.

Better information sharing was the third priority. Safety data is critical to understanding and managing lithium battery risks effectively. Without sufficient relevant data there is little ability to understand the effectiveness of any measures. Both panelists agreed that better information sharing and coordination on lithium battery incidents among governments and with the industry is essential to help managing lithium battery risks effectively.

Airlines, shippers, manufacturers and governments all want to ensure the safe transport of lithium batteries by air. It’s a joint responsibility.

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