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DeFazio Urges ICAO to Ban Transport of Bulk Shipments of Lithium-Ion Batteries on Passenger Aircraft

Oct 20, 2015
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – In a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) pressed the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to call for a ban on transport of bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries on passenger aircraft at the October 19-30 meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Panel. In the letter, DeFazio urged DOT to call for a temporary, but absolute ban until research can establish whether or not lithium-ion batteries can be transported safely on passenger airliners.

“The Federal Aviation Administration’s own research and testing have validated the airlines’ and airframe manufacturers’ safety concerns, and it would be foolish to disregard this research and expose the flying public to unnecessary risk. The risks of transportation of lithium batteries by air have been debated far too long. In fact, thanks to FAA testing, those risks are now certain and beyond any debate. There is no excuse for allowing another tragedy to occur before regulators take long-overdue action,” wrote DeFazio.

In April, DeFazio asked FAA to address the unacceptable hazard to aviation safety posed by bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries in airplanes. Earlier this month, FAA announced that it would back a ban. DeFazio also took aim at a 2012 law that prohibits the U.S. Government from adopting any rule on lithium battery transportation that is more stringent than ICAO standards—unless lithium batteries have caused another catastrophe and loss of life.

“Tying the hands of American safety regulators, who for years have been the leaders in worldwide aviation safety, and codifying the ‘tombstone mentality’ in aviation was a massive error of judgment, and one I hope to correct in the next FAA reauthorization bill,” said DeFazio.

Full text of the letter is below:

The Honorable Anthony Foxx
Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20590

 

Dear Secretary Foxx:

 

            Anyone who doubts the unacceptable hazard to aviation safety posed by bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries in airplanes need only consider the horrific conditions endured by the crew of UPS flight 006, a Boeing 747 freighter laden with lithium-ion batteries and other cargo, in the 29 short minutes between the first indication of an onboard fire and the aircraft’s impact with the ground in 2010. “The cockpit was filling with persistent continuous smoke and fumes” just four minutes after the first fire warning, according to the official accident report; four minutes after that, “the environment was full of continuous blinding smoke” so thick that the crew could not see cockpit instruments just inches in front of them; and 21 minutes after that, the airplane was out of control and slammed into the ground.

Many passenger airlines, including three of the largest U.S. carriers, have heeded the lessons of the UPS flight 006 crash and similar tragedies, such as the crash of Asiana Airlines flight 991 in 2011; at least 29 passenger airlines have voluntarily decided not to transport lithium-ion batteries in bulk on their aircraft, recognizing the unreasonable risks associated with such a volatile cargo under the current loophole-laden international rules. The world’s largest airframe manufacturers have also heeded the call, stating to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Panel earlier this year that “continuing to allow the carriage of lithium batteries within today’s transport category aircraft cargo compartments is an unacceptable risk to the air transport industry” and that lithium-ion batteries should “not be transported as cargo on passenger aircraft until such time as safer methods of transport are established.”

I agree, and I strongly urge the Department, in representing the U.S. Government at the ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel meeting on October 19-30, to call for a temporary but absolute ban on transport of bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries on passenger-carrying aircraft until more research can establish whether such batteries can be transported at an acceptable level of safety. The Federal Aviation Administration’s own research and testing have validated the airlines’ and airframe manufacturers’ safety concerns, and it would be foolish to disregard this research and expose the flying public to unnecessary risk.  The risks of transporting lithium batteries by air have been debated far too long. In fact, thanks to FAA testing, those risks are now certain and beyond any debate. There is no excuse for allowing another tragedy to occur before regulators take long-overdue action.

I further request that the Department provide my staff with an update after the Dangerous Goods Panel meeting has concluded on October 30, describing the outcome of the meeting and the U.S. Government’s next steps in addressing the safety risks associated with lithium batteries in flight.

 As you know, in the FAA reauthorization bill enacted in 2012, Congress unwisely prohibited the U.S. Government from being a leader in aviation safety and adopting any rule on lithium battery transportation that is more stringent than ICAO rules unless there has been an accident, among other very narrow exceptions. Tying the hands of American safety regulators, who for years have been the leaders in worldwide aviation safety, and codifying the “tombstone mentality” in aviation was a massive error of judgment, and one I hope to correct in the next FAA reauthorization bill. In the meantime, I urge the Department to support a temporary ban on bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries on board passenger aircraft and to take any other action the Department deems appropriate to protect the safety of the flying public and airline crewmembers from this serious safety risk.

 

Sincerely,

PETER DeFAZIO

Ranking Member

 

 

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