ICAO DGP Concludes Discussions, Agrees to Amend ICAO Technical Instructions to Further Reduce Risk Associated With Lithium Battery Shipments

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) held its specially scheduled working group this week at ICAO headquarters in Montreal, Canada. The meeting was chaired by Geoff Leach, the member nominated by the United Kingdom. Sixteen out of the 19 members were in attendance along with observers from Dangerous Goods Advisory Council (DGAC), The Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA), Global Express Association (GEA) and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), in all totaling about 75 participants. New Zealand, Italy, Russia were not present. This meeting was considered an extension of the 23rd Session of the DGP and, therefore, the results will be included in the 2013-14 ICAO Technical Instructions (TI). A full report of the meeting will be posted on the ICAO web site in approximately two weeks. (UPDATE 2/28: The ICAO meeting report is now available).

The meeting was scheduled, in part, because the DGP, during its meeting in October 2011, was unable to reach a consensus on how or whether to amend the requirements for shipping lithium batteries aboard aircraft and because they were unable to agree on specific language in the ICAO Technical Instructions related to dangerous goods shipped through the postal service.

The first day and a half was devoted to developing a consensus on text addressing dangerous goods authorized for transport by postal services in accordance with the Universal Postal Union (UPU) Convention. The DGP agreed to mandate training requirements for postal authority employees responsible for accepting and handling mail. Additionally, the ICAO TI will now clearly recognize that Section II batteries can be transported by mail, a practice that is commonplace worldwide.

In relation to the transport of lithium batteries, 11 official working papers were considered. Chairman Leach attempted to build a consensus agreement amongst members that were clearly divided on the appropriate solution and approach to reducing risk. During the course of the discussions, a number of draft proposals were developed and scrapped for an alternative proposal that could lead to greater consensus. The chairman did not ask for a vote during these discussions, but continued the dialogue in an attempt to lead the group toward a practical and effective resolution that would satisfy a large majority of panel members. In the end, the group did achieve a consensus agreement and decided to revise the Section II requirements of packing instructions.

The major change is that packages of lithium batteries exceeding limits specified in Table 965 II (for lithium ion) and 968 II (for lithium metal) will now be assigned to Class 9 and subject to all of the applicable provisions of the ICAO TI, except that they need not be transported in UN specification packagings and the dangerous goods transport document requirements of 5.4 are not applicable provided alternative written documentation is provided, in which case the shipper must provide written documentation describing the contents of the consignment. Where an agreement exists with the operator, the shipper may provide the information by electronic data processing ( EDP) or electronic data interchange (EDI) techniques. The information required must be shown in the following order:

  1. The name and address of the shipper and consignee
  2. UN 3480
  3. Lithium ion batteries PI 965 1.B
  4. The number of packages and the gross mass of each package

When readers have the opportunity to review the amended lithium battery packing instructions, they may need to ask themselves if the DGP has made a confusing set of packing instructions even more perplexing, and wonder in the end whether compliance and safety will ultimately be enhanced. We can only hope for the best considering the dire consequences of battery fires aboard aircraft. It should be hoped that the various references made during the meeting to effective enforcement, outreach and education will be backed up with appropriate actions in the various States. Further, the encouraging research made by industry with respect to incorporating fire mitigation and prevention measures, including fire resistant packagings, overpacks and unit load devices, can be expected to yield real and quantifiable improvements in overall safety. The working group notes to other ICAO groups that enhanced fire suppression systems and improved crew awareness and training can be expected to generate positive benefits, although these may be in the longer term.

Labelmaster will post the report of the meeting once it is finalized and made publicly available.

A Recap of the Special Working Group Session Papers

The working papers (WPs) submitted to DGP 23 in October by the FAA were reproduced by the ICAO Secretary Dr. Katherine Rooney. WP1 was developed by the Secretary to illustrate the implications limiting the quantities of lithium batteries that are excepted from certain requirements of the ICAO TI. These exceptions are generally referred to as the Section II exceptions because they are addressed in Section II of packing instructions 965, and 968, which pertain to lithium ion and lithium metal batteries. WP2 was a reproduction of WP59 from DGP23 and proposed to add operator requirements to Section II of packing instructions 965, 966, 967, 968, 969 and 970 that would require the carrier/operator to secure packages and protect them damage consistent with general loading requirements. WP3 was a reproduction of WP95 from DGP 23, in which the member from the pilots union (IFALPA) proposed that all lithium battery shipments should be identified and documented on the Notification to Pilot in Command (NOTOC). This proposal supported eliminating Section II of the various packing instructions and recognized that the information to pilots would be significantly increased in light of the volume of small lithium batteries and equipment shipped in commerce.

At DGP 23, the majority of panel members were not in favor of deleting section II or requiring every small battery shipment to be documented on the NOTOC because they felt the information would be overwhelming, unnecessarily burdensome and would take away attention from other dangerous goods shipments. However, there was some support for providing information on the NOTOC relative to large bulk shipments of lithium batteries. WP4 from Geoff Leach was developed along those lines and also addressed the need to increase enforcement and initiate other measures (e.g. education) to reduce the risk of fires involving lithium batteries aboard aircraft. The paper highlighted the need to work with other ICAO Panels to address the safe transport of lithium batteries and included a list of recommendations, such as considering the fire suppression capabilities aboard aircraft that carry lithium batteries and whether these should be upgraded; whether a crew of two is adequate for large cargo aircraft; enhanced reporting of battery incidents and publication of them on the ICAO web site; and enhanced training of cargo handling and receiving personnel.  Mr. Leach developed his paper in hopes of facilitating a rationale and effective means of amending the TI to address the safe transport of lithium batteries. Fire suppression was an issue identified by the NTSB in their recommendations to FAA that had not been adequately addressed and which could result in a significant safety benefit. Carriers such as FedEx Express have already taken it upon themselves to invest in enhanced fire suppression systems on their cargo aircraft.

WP5 was submitted by PRBA to provide the DGP with test results based on analyses by an independent third party to demonstrate the risk posed by lithium batteries and to alert the DGP to PRBA’s view that the FAA risk study was based on “flawed assumptions, unsound methodology and faulty data.” PRBA criticized the so called “Risk Model” study done by the FAA with funding from the UK and Canada. A number of assumptions were shown to be incorrect. PRBA will be subjecting this study to an independent review by experts in this field. It is a generally accepted practice to subject reports such as the FAA’s to peer review in order to validate the methodology and conclusions. The PRBA paper lists a number of reports and test results along with links to access the reports. Readers are invited to review these and draw their own conclusions.

WP7 was submitted by NEMA to offer information from the lithium metal battery industry including test results the industry has generated over the years. In their paper NEMA stated that “Lithium metal cells and batteries with a lithium content of not more than 0.3 g – small button-type and coin-type cells and batteries – are recognized to be of significantly lower risk and therefore should also be covered by small quantity exceptions. However, any limit placed on the gross weight of the package below 2.5 kg would force the battery industry to redesign current packaging without providing for any additional measure of safety.” WP8, submitted by the GEA, provided a discussion of how some of the operational requirements considered at DGP would impact cargo aircraft operators. The paper cautioned DGP members to carefully consider the implications of amendments to global operations and, in particular, requested that should additional requirements be necessary, that:

  • the additional requirements be limited to lithium battery bulk shipments and that these shipments may require the
    development of a revised handling label so that they can be readily identified;
  • careful consideration be given to balancing additional operator requirements (particularly in the express package industry) against possible reductions in allowable Section II excepted package quantities; and
  • increased lithium battery enforcement and inspection programs be carried out by States and suitable penalty actions be very strongly encouraged for non-compliant shippers.

WP6 was submitted by a number of industry associations, including PRBA and the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), to highlight the burdens, inconsistency, lack of standard practices and procedures and disharmony associated with the processing of lithium battery approvals. The paper goes on to highlight the impact to commerce and to invigorate the economy and create jobs. The paper requests that the DGP consider replacing approval provisions with requirements built into the ICAO TI to standardize approval processes amongst States (competent authorities) and to consider effective safety equivalency measures.

WP9 was submitted by the member from IATA and proposed amendments to Section II of the packing instructions to require information on a NOTOC for lithium batteries shipped under section II of packing instructions 965 and 968. The paper addressed a gap in the requirements for lithium batteries shipped with equipment and took into account operator concerns for provisions of information for large (bulk) shipments of lithium batteries contained in equipment where individual packages are not required to bear a lithium battery handling label. This paper also noted that while the proposed changes may address operator, flight crew and emergency responder concerns about the provision of information for hazard communication, the actual root cause of lithium battery incidents is still not being effectively addressed. Almost all of the available incident data indicates that the real problem is non-compliance with the existing provisions. To address non-compliance by manufacturers and shippers of lithium batteries, there needs to be far more outreach by regulatory authorities to ensure that commercial shippers of lithium batteries are made aware of the regulatory requirements. The outreach should be supported by greater surveillance of shippers, and when necessary appropriate enforcement action.

The member from Japan submitted two working papers (WP10 and WP11). WP 10 proposed the development of an ICAO Lithium Battery Training Program. WP11 suggested that a more effective means of reducing the risk associated with the transport of lithium batteries would be to require a non-flammable film overpack and requiring batteries to be shipped at a reduced state of charge (30% or less) for bulk shipments.

* * * * *

Based on the above summary of concerns raised, data and solutions provided and the general lack of a definition of “bulk shipments” amongst other challenges, the working group certainly had a huge challenge to address in three-and-a-half days. While they ultimately agreed to amend the ICAO TI, only time will tell if the actions of the DGP will lead to enhanced safety, and what PHMSA and FAA will do to revise the U.S. Hazardous Materials Regulations to incorporate the changes adopted by the international experts. The new language in the FAA reauthorization legislation is sure to play a part in the agency’s actions to harmonize U.S. regulations without adopting unnecessary and unjustified additional regulation.

On a related note, this year’s Dangerous Goods Instructors’ Symposium will feature a workshop on lithium battery transportation. More information on DGIS VII, including registration details, can be found at the Dangerous Goods Instructors’ Symposium site.


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