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IATA calls governments to take measure for safer transport of lithium batteries

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The world airlines’ trade association, International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called upon governments from around the world to further support the safe air carriage of lithium batteries by developing and implementing global standards for screening, fire-testing, and incident information sharing.

IATA asserts that similar is the case with many other products shipped by air, there is a need for effective standards, globally implemented, to ensure safety. The growing demand for lithium batteries globally (the market is growing at 30% annually) is posing the latest challenge as it is attracting many new shippers into air cargo supply chains. A critical risk that is evolving, for example, concerns incidents of undeclared or mis-declared shipments.

IATA has expressed concerns about lithium batteries for a long, asking governments to increase their enforcement of safety regulations for their transport. The association, suggests that this enforcement should include measures such as stiffer penalties for rogue shippers and the criminalization of egregious or wilful offenses.

IATA also urges governments to shore up those activities with additional measures. For example, it says that the development of specific standards and processes by governments to support the safe transport of lithium batteries, like those that exist for air cargo security, will help provide an efficient process for compliant shippers of lithium batteries. IATA says these standards and processes must be outcome-based and globally harmonized.

IATA has also recommended the government develop a testing standard for fires involving lithium batteries, to evaluate supplementary protection measures over and above the existing fire-suppression systems for aircraft cargo compartments.

To understand and manage the risks of lithium batteries effectively it is critical to know safety data so that the industry can understand the effectiveness of any measures. IATA says that better information sharing and coordination on lithium battery incidents among governments and with the industry is essential to helping manage lithium battery risks effectively.

These measures would support existing significant initiatives by airlines, shippers, and manufacturers to ensure that lithium batteries can be carried safely. Such actions have included: updates to the Dangerous Goods Regulations and the development of supplementary guidance material; the launch of a Dangerous Goods Occurrence Reporting Alert System that provides a mechanism for airlines to share information on events involving undeclared or misdeclared dangerous goods; the development of a Safety Risk Management Framework specifically for the carriage of lithium batteries; and the launch of CEIV Lithium Batteries to improve the safe handling and transport of lithium batteries across the supply chain.

“Airlines, shippers, manufacturers, and governments all want to ensure the safe transport of lithium batteries by air. It’s a joint responsibility. The industry is raising the bar to consistently apply existing standards and share critical information on rogue shippers. But there are some areas where the leadership of governments is critical. Stronger enforcement of existing regulations and the criminalization of abuses will send a strong signal to rogue shippers. And the accelerated development of standards for screening, information exchange, and fire containment will give the industry even more effective tools to work with.

Willie Walsh, Director general, IATA

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