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U.N. official proposes cargo ban on lithium batteries

The head of a United Nations panel is recommending a prohibition against shipping lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger planes, as investigations continue into problems with batteries that power Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.

The decision from president of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s governing council, which sets non-binding policies for airlines worldwide, reverses a policy from Jan. 1 that allowed 35 kilograms of lithium batteries in cargo on passenger planes.

The batteries have long been restricted because of suspicions they caused fires in cargo planes.

“Safety is the number one priority of the aviation community and we are very confident that this situation will eventually be resolved in a manner that further supports air transport’s admirable safety performance while addressing the concerns of all stakeholders impacted by these events,” Roberto Kobeh Gonzelez, president of the ICAO Council, said in proposing the prohibition.

JANUARY 2013: Boeing Dreamliner catches fire at Boston’s Logan Airport
JANUARY 2013: FAA grounds Boeing Dreamliner jets

The full council is expected to consider his proposal in a meeting later this month. Gonzalez stressed that the prohibition applies only to lithium-ion batteries, and at the move is temporary while the Dreamliner investigations continues.

An industry group, PRBA-the Rechargeable Battery Association, deferred to airlines in supporting the ICAO decision. But the battery group stressed that lithium-ion batteries weighing up to 11 pounds are still allowed for transport.

George Kerchner, executive director of the battery association, also noted that issues surrounding cargo shipments of safely packaged lithium batteries are different from issues in batteries being used to power a plane like the 787.

“Safety is the PRBA’s No. 1 priority,” Kerchner said. “We continue to caution against a rush to judgment about the general safety of lithium-ion batteries until all the facts are in.”

The Federal Aviation Administration granted special permission to Boeing to use lithium-ion batteries in the 787 as the company made the innovative plane 20% more fuel efficient. But regulators worldwide grounded the fleet of 50 planes last month after problems aboard two of the planes.

Safety investigators in the United States and Japan try to determine what caused a fire Jan. 7 in a battery aboard a Japan Airlines plane parked in Boston and a smoldering battery that forced the emergency landing Jan. 16 of an All Nippon Airways plane in Japan.
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