How to ship lithium batteries by air—in 2020 and beyond

Since 2016, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) implemented drastically more restrictive global regulations on shipping lithium batteries by air, shippers have adapted and done their best to comply. Yet many still find the regulations confusing and have questions about what they can and cannot do.

In March 2019, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) adopted an Interim Final Rule (IFR) generally harmonizing the 49 CFR with the ICAO Technical Instructions, so the 2016 restrictions now apply to all air transport within the United States, as well.

Here’s everything you need to know about the current air transport regulations for all types of lithium batteries and devices.

All standalone lithium batteries are prohibited as cargo on passenger aircraft.

In February 2016, the ICAO—the United Nations agency that regulates the transport of Dangerous Goods aboard international aircraft—enacted a ban on transporting standalone lithium-ion batteries (UN3480) as cargo on passenger aircraft. The ban went into effect April 1, 2016, and remains in force.

Since lithium metal batteries (UN3090) were already prohibited, the new regulation meant no standalone lithium batteries, in any quantity or packaging, could be shipped as cargo on passenger aircraft. There is still no compliant way to do so without a special permit or other approval from a competent authority.

The March 2019 PHMSA IFR harmonized United States lithium-ion battery transport regulations with those of the ICAO, along with extra requirements for ground shipments to ensure no lithium-ion batteries were loaded on aircraft contrary to the regulations. For more detail and current updates on these and other regulations, you can bookmark our Lithium Battery Resources page.

Note: These restrictions apply only to standalone lithium-ion batteries and commercial aircraft. You can still compliantly ship lithium batteries, including lithium-ion batteries, by air. See below.

State of charge limitations and consignment and overpack restrictions still apply.

Additional restrictions on transporting lithium-ion batteries via air were implemented effective April 1, 2016, and are still in force today. These were also adopted generally “as is” by PHMSA in March 2019:

  • State of charge. Standalone lithium-ion batteries (UN3480) can be shipped by air only with a state of charge of 30% or less.
  • Packages per consignment. Shippers may not transport more than one package of standalone lithium-ion batteries prepared in accordance with Packing Instruction 965 or 968 Section II per consignment. A consignment is defined as: “One or more packages of Dangerous Goods accepted by an operator from one shipper at one time and at one address, receipted for in one lot and moving to one consignee at one destination address.”
  • Overpacks. No more than one Section II lithium battery package may be placed into an overpack. Section II packages may not be offered in a unit load device and must be offered separately from other non-dangerous cargo.

While these restrictions may feel complex and burdensome, you can find quick guidelines for compliantly shipping any type of lithium batteries (by any mode) using our Lithium Battery Advisor software.

Yes, you can still ship lithium batteries by air.

It’s important to remember the 2016 restrictions apply only to standalone lithium-ion batteries (UN3480) and commercial aircraft. Standalone lithium metal batteries (UN3090) are also banned from commercial aircraft. However, lithium batteries packed with or contained in equipment (UN3091 and UN3481) may still be shipped compliantly on commercial aircraft, subject to regulations.

In addition, passengers may still transport their battery-powered devices and spare batteries in their carry-on bags.

Plus, all lithium batteries may still be compliantly transported on cargo-only aircraft, subject to regulations. However, you should be aware that airlines may have variations in place that restrict lithium battery transport, even on cargo aircraft.

You can stay current on the latest regulations and variations for lithium battery transport on our Lithium Battery Shipping News page.

Remember these important steps for shipping lithium batteries.

For all lithium battery shipments, you need the lithium battery marks and Class 9 lithium battery hazard class labels that became mandatory on January 1, 2019.

If you’re shipping lithium-ion batteries by air that are not contained or packed with equipment (UN3480), you must:

  • Ship them by cargo aircraft only (if the airline hasn’t filed a variation or implemented an embargo).
  • Ensure they are at a state of charge of no more than 30% of capacity.
  • Pack them separately from everything else.
  • Apply a Cargo Aircraft Only label.

Finally … it’s forbidden to transport damaged, defective or recalled lithium batteries by air, but they can be shipped safely and compliantly via ground in advanced Obexion battery packaging—a complete line of protective packaging for shipping lithium batteries.

Will there be new lithium battery transport restrictions?

Thankfully, there have been no catastrophic air transport incidents relating to lithium battery issues in recent years, so there’s no impetus for major new restrictions. Airlines may continue to change variations, however, and certainly they may be selective with respect to which shippers they will accept lithium battery shipments from.

Meanwhile, at the direction of the ICAO, the SAE International G-27 Lithium Battery Packaging Performance Committee continues its efforts to define a standard that may allow shippers to once again transport standalone lithium batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft in the future. That standard, however, is still likely at least a year away.

For help with lithium battery questions now and in the future, call Labelmaster TOLL-FREE at 800.621.5808 or send us an email. We’re here to help make sure you can ship your lithium batteries safely throughout 2020 and beyond.

Make sure your Dangerous Goods shipments are safe and in complete compliance with a full line of solutions from Labelmaster—a full-service provider of goods and services for hazardous materials and Dangerous Goods professionals, shippers, transport operators and EH&S providers.

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13 Comments

  1. Don Lineback said:

    Correction needed:
    There is something wrong with the new 30% rule for shipping battery cells. It would not surprise me if it is FAA who made the mistake. When it said 30% – they probably meant 3.0v. We are used to seeing % used on our phones. Lithium cells are fully charged at 4.2v and the nominal is 3.7v and the storage is 3.0v (some will go a little under that, but it is risky). So 100% = 4.2v and 30% is 1.26v which is dead and beyond recovery. No manufacturer will sell a lithium cell that is below 3.0v which is 28% low. They are sold and shipped at 72% charged.

    Lithium will not burn. The solid oxygen in the matrix will not burn. Any lithium cell overcharged or over discharged can heat up enough to cause the O2 to change back into a gas which can burn if hot enough. This happens when a Lipo cell pillows. What is the danger?

    The big problem is not the cell as much as the BMS. The safest pack is one that uses an Active BMS and not the cheaper Passive type like Telsa cars tried. Thus a stored device like a laptop can be more dangerous than an actual bulk cell in shipping. The only safe storage is cool, dry with an oxygen suppressant extinguisher. Example: we use a safe starch foam type in our electric airplane that instantly stops flames and smoke without removing O2 from the pilot. It cleans up with water if ever needed.

    Whoever at FAA that made this rule probably missed a few belt loops or a few classes in math!

    Thanks
    Lithium battery importer
    Don Lineback
    407-721-5400

    • Ronnie Wilmink said:

      I disagree with your characterization that 30% SoC (state of charge) level is synonymous with 30% of full voltage. That would indeed kill the battery. An empty battery is considered at 0% state of charge and will be at about 3.0 V. From there you can easily go to a 30% SoC, which will be roughly at 3.2 V per cell.

  2. Ian Buck said:

    Hi All documentation including from IATA i have looked at is telling me i can only send 2 lithium ion batteries in a package.Batteries are under 100 watt hours and at 30% state of charge is this correct.

    Best Regards Confused.

    • Labelmaster said:

      Yes, if you are shipping by air IATA P.I. 965 Section II (See Table 965-II) limits lithium ion batteries > 2.7 Wh and ≤ 100 Wh to 2 batteries per package, and they must be ≤ 30% SOC. More than two batteries could be shipped in the same package, but it would then be fully regulated Class 9 following P.I. 965 Section IB requirements.

    • Labelmaster said:

      Hi Ian,

      Yes, if you are shipping by air IATA P.I. 965 Section II (See Table 965-II) limits lithium ion batteries > 2.7 Wh and ≤ 100 Wh to 2 batteries per package, and they must be ≤ 30% SOC. More than two batteries could be shipped in the same package, but it would then be fully regulated Class 9 following P.I. 965 Section IB requirements.

      Hope that helps, if you have further questions please feel free to give us a call at 1-800-621-5808

      Labelmaster Regs Team

    • Labelmaster said:

      The same rules apply regardless of how large the battery is. If the > 1KWh lithium ion battery is installed in the equipment it would be UN3481, and if the battery is > 35 kg then air transport would not be possible without Competent Authority Approval(s).

  3. Khairol said:

    Hi i would like to send 15 item contains button / coin cell battery. Is it allows to ship out?

  4. Lanny said:

    I have three 12volt Milwaukee Lithium batteries to ship from the US to Isereal. Can I do that with no issues.

    • Labelmaster said:

      Hi Lanny, Please consult the relevant IATA regulations, DGR 61st Edition PI 965 and relevant ancillary requirements, or consider a third party shipper to perform the shipment.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Todd said:

    Hi I would like to either send or carry as baggage on the plane to Colombia from Mass. a ebike 36 volts by 10.4 AH in a foldable aluminum frame with a total weight bat included 40 lbs. The battery is totally contained in the frame. What say you kind sir?

    • Labelmaster said:

      Hi Todd, please consult the relevant IATA regulations, DGR 61st Edition PI 965 and relevant ancillary requirements, or consider a third party shipper to perform the shipment.
      Hope that helps!

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