US pilots call for lithium bike batteries regulations

Electric bike battery pack can catch fire in cargo

The Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) is calling on the U.S. government to ban the carrying of lithium-ion batteries on cargo and passenger planes pending new regulations.

The call comes after a battery pack for an electric bicycle was involved in one of a recent series of incidents involving lithium-ion batteries.   

The past two months have seen reports of fire, smoke, or evidence of fire associated with battery shipments on three separate U.S. airliners. ALPA said that the incidents, which included batteries in an electronic cigarette, a cell phone and an electric bicycle battery pack, were similar to a battery fire in Pennsylvania in 2006 that was severe enough to prompt the National Transportation Safety Board to recommend the full regulation of these types of batteries as dangerous goods.

"The evidence of a clear and present danger is mounting," said Mark Rogers, director of ALPA's dangerous goods program. "We need an immediate ban on these dangerous goods to protect airline passengers, crews and cargo."

ALPA said that it is not calling on restrictions for items passengers are permitted to bring on board an aircraft, but that it is extremely concerned about the risk of transporting lithium batteries as cargo.  

Since 2004, the association has urged the Department of Transportation to regulate the batteries as dangerous goods, including requiring appropriate packaging, labelling, marking, testing, and pilot notification. Since March 2008, there have been six fires on board passenger and cargo jets linked to lithium-based batteries, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, none causing death or serious injury.

The risks of lithium-based batteries were first discovered in Los Angeles in 1999 when a shipment of 120,000 batteries caught fire after arriving on a flight from Japan. These non-rechargeable batteries, which are different from the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries usually found on electric bikes, burn fiercely and can't be extinguished with water or fire extinguishers. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are not as flammable and can be put out with fire extinguishers.

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