NTSB Issues Recommendations on Lithium Batteries in Air Cargo

The board has asked PHMSA to require that lithium batteries be physically separated from other flammable hazardous materials stowed on cargo aircraft and also to set maximum loading density requirements that limit the quantities of lithium batteries and flammable hazardous materials on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued two safety recommendations to DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, asking that agency to require that lithium batteries be physically separated from other flammable hazardous materials stowed on cargo aircraft and also to set maximum loading density requirements that limit the quantities of lithium batteries and flammable hazardous materials on board.

The recommendations stem from NTSB's investigation of the July 28, 2011, in-flight fire and crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 991 in international waters about 80 miles west of Jeju International Airport, South Korea. The NTSB participated in this investigation, headed by the Republic of Korea's Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board.

The aircraft involved in the crash was a Boeing 747 operated by Asiana Airlines. It crashed into the sea off Jeju, killing both pilots, after departing Seoul-Incheon International Airport en route to Shanghai-Pudong International Airport, China.

NTSB stressed that lithium batteries carried as cargo can be a fire and explosion ignition source, a source of fuel for an existing fire, and subjected to overheating that can create an explosive condition. "The National Transportation Safety Board urges the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to take action on these safety recommendations to reduce the likelihood and severity of potential cargo fires and to provide additional time for the crew to safely land a cargo aircraft in the event a fire is detected," NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said.

While PHMSA generally cannot issue regulations or enforce requirements for the safe transportation of lithium cells and batteries that are more restrictive than international regulations, Congress has given PHMSA authority to do so if it finds credible evidence of a deficiency in the international regulations that has substantially contributed to the start or spread of an on-board fire; NTSB stated that it "strongly believes the circumstances and findings in the Asiana Flight 991 accident show the need for new cargo segregation and loading density requirements."

The recommendations are available here.

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