Domestic shippers take note: PHMSA to adopt ICAO lithium battery rules

When the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) imposed new lithium battery air shipping restrictions April 1, 2016, many shippers whose products never cross US borders believed that the new rules didn’t apply to them.

Because those restrictions have not been adopted into the U.S. Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR), they are not enforceable for domestic air shipments.  While most air carriers require all hazardous materials shipments – including lithium batteries – to be packaged in accordance with the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations, some have decided to allow shippers to use the 49 CFR standards instead.  These carriers will not hold their shippers to the ICAO/IATA lithium battery restrictions for domestic flights until PHMSA adopts those provisions into the American HazMat Regulations – which is a significant relief to shippers.

This relief will likely be short-lived.

As reported in Monday’s DG Digest, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) recently released a general overview of their forthcoming Interim Final Rule to harmonize with the new ICAO/IATA lithium battery restrictions.

This Interim Final Rule—likely to take effect in early 2017—is expected to amend 49 CFR §173.185 to include:

  • A 30% State of Charge (SOC) limit on all air shipments of standalone lithium ion batteries;
  • A prohibition on transporting standalone lithium ion batteries as cargo aboard passenger aircraft; and
  • A limit of not more than one (1) package containing Section II standalone lithium metal or lithium ion batteries per consignment.
  • Approval provisions to authorize the shipment of cells and batteries on passenger aircraft and at a SOC greater than 30% when required for specific reasons such as shipping medical device batteries to remote locations or when shipping batteries at a higher SOC for patient implants.

Please note: The above listed restrictions will apply only to air transportation.

Expected ramifications of PHMSA harmonization

While not listed in the PHMSA overview, we expect the interim rulemaking or the scheduled international harmonization rule (HM-215 series) to also include:

  • A requirement that all ground shipments of standalone lithium ion cells/batteries have the Cargo Aircraft Only (CAO) label displayed on the package. Displaying the CAO label on ground shipments is currently allowable, but not required. For domestic shipments it would be beneficial if PHMSA would allow alternative marks (e.g. “FORBIDDEN FOR TRANSPORT ON PASSENGER AIRCRAFT”).
  • The elimination, by all modes, of the accompanying document requirement for shipments of excepted lithium battery packages.
  • Authorization to use the new Lithium Battery Handling Label and Class 9 Lithium Battery Label.

NewLBHandelingLabel NewClass9Label



The timetable below includes PHMSA’s estimate of the rulemaking procedure, including a publication date of January 12, 2017. As an Interim Final Rule, these requirements will be effective on the day of publication to the Federal Register.


Remember, the timetable above is only an estimate. The publication date is subject to change in either direction. There is a possibility that language in the upcoming FAA Reauthorization Bill will mandate a publication date well in advance of January 2017, but that remains to be seen.

Questions about shipping lithium batteries by air? We have answers! Call Labelmaster TOLL-FREE at 1-800-621-5808, or contact us.

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