ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) Working Group (WG) meeting was held from 27 April to May 1, 2015 in Montreal, Canada. Lithium battery regulations consumed a majority of the discussion. A primary decision involved an agreement to establish a Task Group of experts to develop enhanced packaging standards for the transport of lithium batteries. The Task Group was given the duty to present a solution to the ICAO DGP WG in October 2015. A number of recommendations were developed to address mitigating measures that could be implemented to reduce the risk of a fire involving bulk quantities of lithium cells/batteries (UN 3090 and UN 3480) that may exceed the fire suppression capability of the aircraft and could lead to a catastrophic incident. Concern by pilots and aircraft manufacturers that existing standards are not sufficient to contain a lithium battery fire and prevent catastrophic incidents have resulted in the ICAO DGP considering at least 14 recommendations to mitigate risk. A few of the major recommendations adopted are as follows:
Recommendation 2/14 - Performance based provision to limit the probability of propagation of thermal runaway between cells. That a performance based provision be developed that would limit the probability of propagation of thermal runaway between cells to an acceptable level of risk.
Recommendation 3/14 - State of change level of all cells. That all lithium-ion cells for shipment be limited to a stage of charge of no more than 30% as an interim means to reduce the probability of propagation of thermal runaway between cells.
Recommendation 8/14 - Performance based packaging of lithium batteries. That further research and testing be completed as soon as possible on packagings for lithium batteries, that may include the use of cooling agents such as gel packs as a means to add additional protective layers to mitigate the risks associated with the carriage of lithium batteries.
Solutions are to be reported to the ICAO DGP meeting scheduled for October 12 - 23, 2015. If approved, these standards could be included in the 2017-2018 edition of the ICAO Technical Instructions on the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air (ICAO TI).
A working paper was submitted by the International Coordination Council of the Aerospace Industry Association (ICC AIA having Boeing and Airbus as members) and endorsed and supported by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Association (IFALPA) addressing the risks of transporting lithium ion batteries as cargo. Both ICC AIA and IFALPA feel that the transport of Lithium batteries, at least in large quantities, cannot be undertaken by aircraft in a safe manner because current technology with respect to aircraft fire-fighting capabilities and packaging technologies utilized for lithium batteries is insufficient. These suggestions were based on the tests undertaken by the FAA’s William J Hughes Test Center in 2013 where it was proven that when lithium batteries overheat, or short-circuit, then it will produce explosive gases (mainly hydrogen gas). When the gas accumulate, it will produce high heat, ignite, causes thermal runaway and the aircraft fire suppression system is not capable to stop. ICC AIA and IFALPA both determined this risks as “unacceptable”. ICAO Safety Management Manual, ICC AIA and IFALPA demanded immediate action to mitigate the unacceptable risks posed by lithium batteries. On this basis, their joint recommendation brought forward by the working paper presented to the ICAO DGP was:
a) That appropriate packaging and shipping requirements be established to more safely ship lithium ion batteries on passenger aircraft;<