Lithium batteries should be banned from passenger planes, says UN aviation watchdog

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I have zero problems with this.


Verily, there was some fine commentary on that one article the other day. I remember being alarmed when I made a mistake trying to extract a lithium battery with some pointy tweezers; if I had known there was potential for more than just a little smoke, I would have never done anything of the sort.

How many planes that carry passengers could there be that carry large quantities of lithium batteries in cargo, anyway?


Well, there goes all your:

  • laptops
  • kindles
  • phones
  • external battery packs
  • electric toothbrushes (maybe these still use NiMH?)
  • digital cameras
  • ecigs
  • handheld consoles

The ban does not affect the batteries inside gadgets people take into the passenger cabins of planes.

Or maybe not. But that doesn’t make sense, does it? How are the batteries in consumer electronics any safer then other lithium batteries? All it takes is one crappy nockoff charger or external battery to cause a problem. Even stuff like apple’s charging cable got recalled because of related issues.


Since the original article says ‘large quantities’ I’m guessing that it is chain-reaction effects they’re worried about. If a single laptop lights up it’s not likely to melt the shell of a battery in another laptop across the aisle. If, on the other hand, a battery catches fire and it’s in a packing crate full of other batteries… well, I would enjoy watching that, but only from a considerable distance.


This is about pallets full of lithium batteries, not about laptops etc. that passengers carry, or even ship in their checked luggage (if so foolish). I don’t see it being a problem, except that it will make more warehouses spring up in countries of use.

As it is, there are some less-than-fully-compliant firms selling batteries online and shipping them from China to the USA without any of the legally required labeling.


Seems fair enough to me.

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Lion & lipo batteries have very different risk profiles


Lufthansa,KAL, Air France to name a few.
Lots more.

Aside from the possible modest difference that comes with having been tested for a few charge/discharge cycles during the use of the device(which would tend to weed out defective cells in the ‘crib death’ stage of the bathtub curve of failure), not much.

However, the ones in carry-on baggage are likely to be packed much less densely(a pallet of batteries or nothing-but-smartphones is a very plausible cargo item; while most carry-on bags reflect the needs of the user and don’t have more than one or two of a given device); and if they start smelling ominous and heating up they’ll be noticed much more quickly.

It’s not fun; but Li-ions up to about laptop size aren’t too bad to have to control if you move quickly and have some sort of fire resistant container to dump them in(I think I’ve read that passenger aircraft sometimes have fire-resistant sacks for the purpose; but the little food/drink trolley things are aluminum and could probably be recruited in a pinch).

What is less pleasant is having an entire pallet of batteries start cooking off, or having an errant battery recruit a bunch of other luggage in the hold and get a proper fire going before it is detected.


I don’t know what the various carriers’ policies are on what they will and won’t transport; but my understanding is that pretty much any airline that operates sufficiently large aircraft and isn’t a total mess from a logistical standpoint will try to make some extra money by handling a few Unit Load Devices worth of cargo whenever they have space and someone has goods with the right destination.

The extra weight costs fuel, of course; but the aircraft, maintenance, and flight crew make up enough of the cost of any given flight that it really doesn’t pay to fly empty if you can avoid it. Fuel costs and loading/unloading are enough of a factor that you probably won’t see coal and pig iron being loaded; but comparatively high-margin consumer electronics racing from the Pacific Rim to customers? Definitely.

Passenger aircraft don’t have nearly the capacity of cargo aircraft, which are basically all Unit Load Device space, with a cockpit tacked on; but ULDs fit in the compartment under the passenger deck; and strategic deployment of checked bag fees helps free up room for more of them.

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Agreed. In my industry, our normal mode of transport for Li-Ion cells is via Ocean. I’m talking about three 40’ containers per week. In a pinch, we will use airfreight but the cost is so prohibitive that it’s not something we like to do all the time. Plus, we could not move the volume needed to sustain us. Airfreight costs us 10x what it costs to ship by ocean.
On a personal note, I have zero issues with airlines going this route. Hell, I wouldn’t want to be on a plane with these things.

I’d certainly be nervous as hell if I were sitting on top of a pallet load. I had a couple of run-ins with laptops back during the bad batch of Sony Li-ions, and they just weren’t that scary(one of the laptops even survived, since this was back when battery packs were removable, just a few scorch marks); but nobody disrespects a proper metal fire more than once.

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We prefer to use the term “Thermal Runaway”.



The difference is that batteries in the passenger cabin are not tightly packed, and fires can be mitigated by the actions of the flight crew more easily than in the cargo area.

What about “rapid spontaneous disassembly”?

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Aren’t ‘thermal runaways’ the bystanders who are executing the correct procedure for handling a metal fire?


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