DOT's Lithium Battery Proposal Debated

Pilots and electrical equipment manufacturers are at odds about the Jan. 11 proposal to tighten current regulations governing shipments of lithium cells and batteries.

Two organizations, at least –- airline pilots and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) -- are squarely at odds about the U.S. Department of Transportation's Jan. 11 proposal to tighten current regulations governing shipments of lithium cells and batteries. United Airlines First Officer Mark Rogers, director of the Air Line Pilots Association's Dangerous Goods Program, backed the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's proposed rule in his testimony, while NEMA for the most part opposed it in its submitted comments.

"ALPA has long voiced concern that current provisions in the hazardous materials regulations governing the transport of lithium batteries by air are inadequate to protect crewmembers, passengers, cargo, and the public," Rogers said. "We applaud the Department of Transportation for this proposed rule-making and recommend that it be adopted largely intact, as it will have significant, positive impact on the safety of the air transportation system."

NEMA, however, said the new rules "would increase confusion in the market and reduce safety" and added DOT should adopt regulations that are largely harmonized with international standards for lithium battery air transport. "Many of the agency's proposals, although perhaps well-meaning, would have the opposite effect of what is intended," said Kyle Pitsor, NEMA's vice president for government relations. "NEMA and its member companies are committed to safe transportation of their products." NEMA's Dry Battery Section represents manufacturers of lithium metal batteries. NEMA also opposed the proposal in a March 5 public meeting. The full text of NEMA's comments, filed on March 12 is available at www.nema.org/PHMSA_Notice.

"In summary, assuming PHMSA moves forward with all of its proposals, a 75-day compliance deadline is unfeasible, unworkable, and impossible," NEMA stated in its comments. "To better achieve its own objectives, for any final rule PHMSA should revert to previous practice and allow 18-24 months for compliance. Given PHMSA’s resource challenges in enforcing its current regulations, we would expect that PHMSA would also need a significantly longer period than 75 days in order to prepare itself to implement and enforce a new rule."

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