A new approach to updating U.S. regulations on air shipment of lithium batteries is expected this spring following President Obama’s Feb. 14 signature on legislation authorizing activities of the Federal Aviation Administration and a Feb. 10 agreement at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on new requirements set to take effect on January 1, 2013.
The ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel chose to require all bulk shipments of lithium cells and/or batteries shipped by air to be treated as hazardous materials, but agreed to allow small, low-risk shipments to remain excepted from full regulation. NEMA's and U.S. industry’s presence and voice at the ICAO meeting were critical to retention of this exception for genuinely small consumer and e-commerce type quantities. At the same time, however, the battery industry and battery-consuming industries globally have little more than 9 months to change some shipping practices and to have relevant personnel trained as required under the hazmat shipping rules.
Domestically, Section 828 of the new FAA law contains a NEMA-backed provision essentially requiring DOT agencies to put in place no requirements more stringent than ICAO standards unless special circumstances apply. In addition, the U.S. ban on lithium metal batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft will be retained.
DOT’s current plans include a new regulatory proposal as soon as May. The approach taken in a heavily criticized January 2010 rulemaking proposal should be abandoned. NEMA favors harmonization of U.S. lithium battery shipment regulations with international norms as well as international collaboration on compliance and enforcement.