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Aircraft makers shun lithium battery cargos

Aircraft makers continue to insist that lithium batteries carried as bulk cargo on passenger planes pose an "unacceptable risk." Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 which vanished last year had 221 kilograms on board.

The UN's International Civil Aviation Agency plans to press a proposal contained in a draft paper to ban the transport of bulk lithium batteries on passenger flights at a meeting next month of its dangerous goods panel, the news agency Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Industry dissenters proposed stricter battery transport rules instead of a full ban; US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tests show that current battery packaging and fire fighting systems on board "cannot adequately suppress a lithium metal fire."

Associated Press quoted George Kerchner, the executive director of the Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA), as saying that battery makers were "fully committed to safe transport of lithium batteries."

Bulk batteries on board

A report released in Malaysia on Sunday, the first anniversary of Flight MH370's disappearance and loss of 239 people, said the Boeing 777 was loaded at Kuala Lumpur with 221 kilograms of lithium-ion batteries without any additional screening.

Motorola Solutions had dispatched the shipment in Malaysia's Penang state on the previous day. It was given customs clearance, bound for Beijing, without being declared as dangerous goods.

Sunday's report also said there had been 99 shipments of lithium ion batteries on Malaysian Airline passenger flights from January until May last year.

Secretariat sought ban

Last year's paper drafted by another body, the International Coordination Council of Aerospace Industry Associations (ICCAIA) included its own secretariat's call that lithium battery cargos be banned on passenger aircraft.

Malaysia Airline / MH 370 / Plakat

Writen condolences for those who vanished on March 8 2014

Even though aircraft holds were fitted with Halon gas fire suppression systems as a "last line of defence" the FAA tests had shown that a "thermal run away event" could not be stopped and could result in a "catastrophic event" while in flight.

Smoke from a lithium battery cargo fire was detected on the test plane's flight deck after only four minutes. Smoke "completely obscured" the flight deck in six minutes, the FAA said, adding that behavior was "very dependent" on the batteries' make.

When oxygen replaced the expiring Halon, a flash fire occurred in the cargo compartment, resulting in an explosion that blew the flight deck door off its hinges.

High demand for lightweight batteries

Lithium batteries dominate global manufacture because high demand for the lightweight, relatively powerful power packs as industry strives for portability and ways to store renewable energy.

Lithium-ion batteries found in cell phones and laptops are rechargeable. So-called "thermal runaway" caused by heat, rapid discharge or overcharging of just one cell, can result in temperatures exceeding 550 degrees Celsius (1100 degrees Fahrenheit)

The blaze spreads from cell to cell and package to package, the FAA found.

Lithium metal batteries are not chargeable and are used in toys, watches and medical devices. Their combustion begins at 760 degrees Celsius.

Battery makers aim for 'safe transport'

PRBA director Kerchner told AP that lithium-ion battery manufacturers were "fully committed" to safe transport.

Lithium-ion battery production is forecast to double to 8 billion cells by 2025.

The experimental aircraft "Solar Impulse 2" whose crew has begun a flight series to circumnavigate the world, starting in Abu Dhabi, uses lithium batteries to store power generated by its ultra-thin solar panels.

ipj/sb (AP, dpa)

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