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Boeing repeats warning against lithium battery shipments on jetliners

CHICAGO, Ill.–Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has again warned its jetliner customers that flying bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries can cause fires capable of destroying their planes.

The guidance sent to airlines globally urged them not carry to carry the batteries as cargo “until safer methods of packaging and transport are established and implemented”,  a Boeing spokesman told The Associated Press.

At the same time, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also issued a statement acknowledging that testing “conducted on the transport of lithium batteries has indicated that it presents a risk”.

FAA tests over the past year show that when the batteries short-circuit they emit hydrogen and other gases that can build up. When the gases ignite, they cause fierce explosions and unleash fires that are very difficult to put out.

The tests also demonstrate that the halon fire suppression systems in the cargo compartments of airliners have been shown to be ineffective against battery fires. The systems have been able to put out the initial flames from overheated batteries, but are unable to stop the batteries from continuing to overheat and reigniting.

An FAA test in February resulted in a powerful explosion despite being conducted in a pressurised chamber with an atmosphere of five per cent halon.

The rechargeable batteries are used in mobile phones, laptops, power tools and other electronic devices. They are also often shipped as cargo on international airline flights.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is trying to come up with new standards for packaging that can contain battery fires. A special working group is scheduled to meet on the matter later this month.

The Air Line Pilots Association praised Boeing in a statement: “We hope this warning will encourage others to follow suit and discontinue the bulk shipment of lithium batteries on board passenger aircraft and on cargo aircraft” until adequate safety procedures are developed.

A growing number of airlines have said they will no longer accept bulk battery shipments, including Delta, United, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, British Airways and Cargolux, said the AP.