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USA: U.S. Looks to ‘Harmonize’ With UN Lithium-Battery Rules

The U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking comments on whether to align rules restricting lithium-battery shipments by air with United Nations standards, after companies including Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Samsung Electronics Co. opposed stricter U.S. regulation.

Lithium batteries, used in laptop computers, mobile phones and hearing aids, can spontaneously combust and were part of the cargo aboard two U.S. jets destroyed in fires since 2006, including one that crashed after leaving Dubai. UN rules approved in February would require airlines like FedEx Corp. (FDX) and United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) to inspect shipments before loading and after removal.

A UPS Boeing 747-400 that caught fire shortly after it left Dubai on Sept. 3, 2010, was carrying more than 81,000 lithium batteries, according to a preliminary report by the General Civil Aviation Authority of the United Arab Emirates. The jet crashed at a military base as pilots tried to make an emergency landing. Both pilots died. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP/GEtty Images
The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed rules in January 2010 that were blocked by the U.S. House after industry groups said they would cost $1.1 billion to implement. Congress passed legislation in February preventing U.S. regulators from imposing rules stricter than those adopted by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization.

The department sought public comment on “harmonizing” its rules with the UN’s in a notice posted yesterday on the Federal Register’s website.

Industry Groups

“The ICAO recently adopted lithium battery provisions that will become effective on Jan. 1, 2013, and we are asking the public to provide additional comments on the potential impact of adopting these ICAO standards,” Jeannie Layson, director for governmental, international and public affairs for the pipeline safety agency, said in a statement.

The UN rules are supported by Airlines for America, the main trade group for U.S. airlines, and the Rechargeable Battery Association which represents battery and device makers including Apple, Samsung and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc.


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