Big Debate in the Sky: Are Plane Fires Caused by Cargo Batteries?
U.S. regulators are devising various ways to crack down on air-cargo shipments of computers, cellphones and other electronic devices that contain lithium ion batteries, despite stiff opposition from some of the biggest makers of those products. Prompted by the recent fiery crash of a UPS Boeing 747 cargo jet filled with electronic goods, officials at the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Aviation Administration have been working on enhanced protections against the flammability of rechargeable batteries. Expected later this year, such restrictions could crimp industries that have come to rely on just-in-time shipments to the United States of batteries and equipment largely manufactured in Asia. The government’s interim steps, these people said, are likely to deal with improved packaging and record-keeping, as well as limiting the size of certain battery shipments and warning pilots every time their planes carry such cargo. Comprehensive U.S. safeguards against battery-fed aircraft fires are expected later as part of a separate DOT rule-making drive started months ago. That effort could formally classify lithium batteries as hazardous cargo, changing the way everything from hand-held electronic devices to batteries for electric cars will be packaged, tracked and distributed in coming years.