ICAO Adopts Interim Ban on Lithium-Ion Batteries in Planes

On Monday, February 22, 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) voted in favor of banning packaged lithium-ion batteries from being carried as cargo shipments on passenger aircraft. While the ban will not extend to batteries used in personal devices or stored in appliances in passengers’ luggage, it will ensure that packages of batteries are not shipped in aircraft cargo holds.

The decision will become effective on April 1 and will serve as an interim measure while ICAO writes more permanent regulations. An effort to craft long-term rules on battery shipments is not expected to be completed until 2018. Monday’s announcement comes as Congress is considering the issue as part of a long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA has requested the regulatory authority to ban the batteries from flights, but a provision granting this authority to the Agency was removed from the FAA Reauthorization during consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The goal of removing this language is to leave the decision with ICAO and ensure that U.S. rules remain harmonized with international regulations.

Packaged shipments of lithium batteries are a concern for airlines because the high energy potential of the batteries (which is why they are desirable power sources for consumer electronics) creates a fire hazard. If a battery short circuits or fails in the package, it could potentially overheat and cause catastrophic fires or explosions that could overwhelm fire-suppression systems in aircraft.