FAA Warns Airlines on Dangers of Lithium Batteries

The Federal Aviation Administration is urging airlines to take steps to reduce the risk of lithium batteries overheating and causing fires on aircraft.

In a safety directive, officials acknowledged for the first time that a Boeing 747-400 United Parcel Service plane that crashed in Dubai last month was carrying a large number of lithium batteries. The plane's two pilots were killed in the crash.

The FAA says while the cause of that crash has not yet been determined, smoke in the main cabin of the plane, which was used for cargo, was so thick the pilots reported to air traffic control they couldn't see their instruments. Dubai officials are leading the investigation into the crash with assistance from the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board.

Carriers should take steps to reduce fire risk posed by transporting the batteries, the FAA says in its new safety directive. Lithium batteries are the kind used in watches and cameras.

This includes asking shippers to identify and document bulk shipments of batteries. The directive also recommends stowing shipments of batteries only in the belly of planes, in compartments with halon gas fire suppression systems.

The FAA says there have been dozens of incidents of batteries igniting on flights or during cargo handling, and scientists are trying to determine exactly why.

But meanwhile, a cargo compartment fire can get hot enough to ignite the batteries, even if they aren't the initial cause of the fire, the FAA warns. And this can have potentially catastrophic consequences.

Safety and security experts and others have also raised concerns about lithium batteries in passenger cabins, with some calling for limits.
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