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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31 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!

    • Labelmaster said:

      Kathy, we cannot recommend shippers, but a quick google search and you should have plenty to choose from.

  6. Vadas said:

    I have 2 packages containing 132 laptops with lithium ion batteries contained in them, all batteries are under 100 Wh and all laptops are securely packed. Do I need to register shipment as DGR and also what regulations would I need to comply with to ship by air and by sea?

  7. eric plott said:

    Hello I am considering to move to Belize Central America and I am about to purchase a Bluetti 2000 watt generator. How would I go about bringing this with me as luggage to Central America via airplane with no issues as it is a Lithium ion battery within itself and it’s very powerful; however it weighs 60 pounds. Would I be better off just shipping to Belize rather than buying in the states and then bringing it with me on my luggage. It looks like maybe I can’t even bring on the flight. Am I correct?

    Thanks.
    Kindest regards,
    It’s the AC200p bluetti model in specific. Which is one of the more powerful ones.

    Erik Plott

    • Labelmaster said:

      We recommended that you arrange with a vendor to drop ship for them or for the vendor to drop ship to a 3rd party US contract shipper to perform the overseas portion for you.

      Labelmaster

  8. Juan Toledo said:

    Can a 72v 26ah battery pack be shipped to PUERTO RICO by air?

    • Labelmaster said:

      Hi Jaun, please give our regs team a call: 800.621.5808

      Thanks,
      The LM Team

  9. Pete said:

    Hi, I want to ship a lithium-ion battery to NZ to use in my electric bike. The bike I will take with me in the aircraft (without the battery). The battery is a Panasonic 26V, 250W and weighs several kilos. I have spoken to several shipping companies and they all say batteries are prohibited on flights. I can get an MSDS document from the battery supply/bike company. Can anyone advise how best to set this up and which companies to contact. I will also need to ship the battery back home to the UK once I have finished my vacation in NZ later this year.

    • Labelmaster said:

      Hi Pete!

      Please give our regs team a call to figure out how to get it there compliantly: 800.621.5808

      Thanks,
      The LM Team

  10. Yu Ar said:

    I was told U3481 products (containing lithuim-ion battery) can only be shipped with courier companies (FedEx/UPS/DHL etc) and not in freight flights. Is it true?

    • Labelmaster said:

      Yu,

      The rules for shipping of UN3481 (Lithium Ion Batteries contained in or packed with equipment) vary greatly depending on the type and power of the battery or batteries, the number and weight of the batteries, their physical condition and reason for transport, etc. This is why it is important to determine and consult the correct modal packing instruction when offering such consignments for transport. Please feel free to give our regulatory team a call for more information at 800-621-5808

  11. Guy said:

    How many lithium ion 18650 cells can be compliantly packed in a box to ship by air from the continental US to Hawaii? What about interisland between the Hawaiian Islands? Does cell capacity make a difference? (cell rating would be 3.6 – 3.7V and 2500mah to 3450mah) Would we need certification and take a lithium/hazmat shipping course to ship any type of lithium batteries by air in between the main Hawaiian Islands.

    • Labelmaster said:

      We would have no way of knowing about specific packing limits without researching the item the inquirer asks about, and classifying the cell and batteries. Even if we did that, there is no way we could answer those questions without grossly exceeding our liability limits. You would need to take the IATA battery course and then do the work to make that determination.

  12. Vinod Satpute said:

    Hi, we are mobile phone exporters & the mobile phones have in built batteries where one of the phone was in “SWITCHED ON” mode & vibrating. Carrier offloaded whole cargo for inspection & delayed further connection. Wanted to know if Mobile phones have to be switched off before loading the cargo?

    • Labelmaster said:

      Vinod, thank you for your question! Yes, any device powered by batteries must be switched off and measures taken to prevent deliberate or accidental activation.

      Thank you, Labelmaster

  13. MM said:

    Hi,
    2 batteries of UN3480 regulations 965 Section II, no declaration required. if there is enough to label package UN3480 and CAO, pallet sealed also needs to be labeled UN3480, CAO and OVERPACK. IS this correct?
    If there are extra rules if in the consignment 2 pallets UN3481 not exceeded battery weight per package 5 kg and the order contain UN3480 (2 batteries),all shipment not required declaration?

    • Labelmaster said:

      Hi MM,

      IATA DGR PI 965 provides specifications for dealing with multiple packages in a variety of situations. Section II prohibits offering more than one package per consignment. Note that many carriers refuse to accept Section II consignments altogether. Section II is planned for elimination in the forthcoming edition of the IATA DGR.

      The Labelmaster Regs Team

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