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Aircraft Fires Tied to Lithium-Battery Cargo Prompt New UN Rule

A United Nations panel is calling for tougher inspections and detailed labeling of air shipments of lithium batteries following two incidents in which aircraft were destroyed when freight shipments burst into flames.

The Dangerous Goods Panel at the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization agreed Friday to the new standards, said Mark Rogers, who heads hazardous-materials handling issues for the Air Line Pilots Association union.

The action may lead to more stringent U.S. rules for battery shipments. Congress earlier this month passed an aviation bill restricting U.S. regulators from imposing rules stricter than those set by the ICAO. Tighter rules proposed by the Department of Transportation stalled following industry objections that they would lead to higher consumer costs.

“I’ve been working on lithium batteries for 10 years and this is the biggest development to date,” said Rogers, who serves on the 19-member ICAO panel.

Without new safety standards, lithium batteries that can spontaneously combust were projected to destroy one U.S.- registered cargo jet every other year, according to a study commissioned by U.S. and Canadian aviation regulators. Shipments of lithium batteries that include those used in mobile phones, tablets and laptop computers have been suspected of contributing to two U.S. cargo-jet accidents since 2006.

The Rechargeable Battery Association, which represents companies such as Apple Inc (APPL). and Panasonic Corp., said in an e- mail statement Feb. 13 that the ICAO panel’s recommendations were a “reasonable compromise.”

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