Lithium Batteries

John FRANKLIN • 30 September 2020
in community Air Operations

This article provides airlines, airports and other organisations with information about the risks of Lithium Batteries and mitigations that have been established by EASA and other regulatory authorities or things that you can consider to manage the risk in your own operations.  

Latest Information

The Agency has been recently made aware of an issue with the batteries of this device, which “may overheat and pose a fire safety risk”:

  • Apple 15 inch Macbook Pro Battery Recall

This incident is similar to that of September 2016, when the Agency took note of reported incidents concerning defective devices that had led the manufacturer to establish a recall and voluntary exchange programmes, and consequently published EASA SIB 2016-13. This SIB was later on amended by EASA SIB 2016-14, EASA SIB 2016-14 R1 and EASA SIB 2017-01, this last one proposing general recommendations to the operators regarding the transport by air of damaged, defective or recalled lithium batteries.

Given the increase in recalls by manufacturers of defective batteries due to safety reasons, the Agency would like to remind of the importance of following the recommendations contained in SIB 2017-01, which has been recently amended by SIB 2020-01R1 to remove any references to specific items.  

Introduction - What are lithium batteries?

Lithium batteries are mainly of two types: lithium metal batteries and lithium ion batteries. Basically, the difference between them is that lithium metal batteries are those that are not rechargeable, thus, primary, and lithium ion batteries are those that can be recharged. As an example, your laptop or cell phone is likely to have a lithium ion battery, whereas your watch may have a lithium metal battery.

What are the risks?

If damaged, short-circuited, heated, or sometimes because of a bad design, batteries may catch fire and explode. This is a particularly dangerous situation that must be avoided at all cost during the flight.

The most important message

There are many different things to consider when it comes to safe carriage of lithium batteries. However, the most important messages beyond everything else are: 

  • Passengers must carry e-cigarrettes, powerbank, spare batteries in the cabin and not put them in the checked baggage.  Computers, phones and other devices should be carried in the cabin unless they are properly packed. 

More detailed information?

Passengers are allowed to carry portable electronic devices (such as watches, cameras, phones, laptops…) that contain lithium metal or ion cells or batteries for your personal use under the following conditions:

  • They should be carried in carry-on luggage, although they may be in checked baggage if needed as long as you take measures to prevent unintentional activation.
  • The battery must not exceed a Watt-hour (Wh) rating of 100 Wh or 2 grams of lithium content (the first limit is for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and the second for lithium metal batteries, which are usually not rechargeable). To calculate Watt-hours, just multiply the battery voltage by the Amp hours (Ah), as the Wh rating is not marked on them.
  • If the Wh is higher than 100 but not higher than 160, you will need an approval from the operator to carry the item. It is not allowed to transport any item which battery exceeds 160 Wh.
  • You may also carry spare batteries or a power bank for these devices for your personal use. However, these may never be in your checked baggage and they must be individually protected to prevent short circuits(with insulating the terminals with tape, putting each battery in a plastic bag, or using any other appropriate way). The limits in terms of Wh and lithium content are the same as above.
  • Also, spare batteries, including power banks, should not be recharged while on board the aircraft. Additionally, power banks should not be connected or providing power to a device while on board the aircraft.
  • All batteries must have been properly tested in accordance with the United Nations Manual of Test and Criteria. To ensure this, buy all your batteries from original retailers and avoid purchasing cheap articles from untrustworthy sources.
  • When the passenger's bag is taken at the gate to be put on the hold, they should take all their spare batteries and electronic devices out.

How to identify and react if something happens to a lithium battery?

The fact that a battery is swollen, too hot or producing smoke is a clear sign that something is wrong with it. It is important to identify any abnormal situations as quickly as possible and deal with them appropriately. This means that:

  • Passenger's should be informed to immediately contact a cabin crew member or airport staff member if they notice anything different in their battery during the flight or in the airport.
  • They should also be reminded not to try to put out the fire themselves, as they may worsen the situation or get hurt.
  • If they lose their device or battery during the flight, immediately call a cabin crew member and do not operate the seat as this can damage or crush the battery in the device and this can start a fire.
  • The temperatures that the battery may reach are quite high. Batteries are usually made of more than one cell. If one of the cells of the battery catches fire, it might spread to adjacent cells, provoking unexpected explosions and unforeseen flames. Airlines and airports should have procedures in their operating manuals for handling lithium battery fires. 

Additional Material and Resources

The following resources are available to help your own work on managing the risks of lithium battery fires: 

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