Passenger outreach is biggest challenge to battery safety: IATA

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IATA is eager to inform the traveling public of ways to properly protect lithium batteries from short circuit in personal electronic devices (PEDs) carried on board aircraft, but says passenger outreach “is probably the biggest challenge” it faces to spreading the message.

“We need to find ways to provide information to passengers before they travel so that they are aware of how to properly protect lithium batteries from short circuit, and understand the limits that apply to these batteries,” says IATA director, cargo safety and standards Dave Brennan in advance of IATA’s first Cabin Operations Safety Conference, which will be held from May 20-22 in Madrid, and will address PED battery-related fires among other timely #PaxEx topics.

Balancing passenger expectations with airline needs is a key issue. “Passengers expect to be able to bring whatever portable lithium battery-powered device they have available on board. Airlines need to ensure that aviation remains safe and that portable electronic devices do not put passengers, airline employees (particularly cabin crew) or the aircraft at risk due to an onboard fire,” says Brennan.

But airlines also need to do their part, he says, noting that carriers “can look at the tools provided to cabin crew via training and procedures so that they are prepared to deal effectively and efficiently with an onboard fire involving lithium batteries”.

The airline industry is keenly aware of the risks of lithium batteries on aircraft. Lithium batteries have been traced to a multitude of smoke and fire incidents in aircraft cargo holds, for instance. And a final rule in the US that would impose additional safeguards related to the transport of lithium ion batteries as freight is currently slated to be published on 14 May. Additionally, in recent months, it has become clear that PEDs can also slip into aircraft seat gaps and be crushed in the electronic mechanisms sparking a smoke or fire event.

Geoff Leach, past chair of the ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel, notes that where lithium batteries have caught fire, they have invariably been caused by batteries which have either “not been manufactured in accordance with the requirements (e.g. counterfeits) or have not been handled properly (e.g. carried loose in checked baggage, causing them to short circuit)”. He says a conference session led by he and Brennan about PED battery fires “will highlight three basic measures that can be taken to ensure the majority of causes of lithium battery incidents are eliminated”.

Runway Girl Network will cover the conference from Madrid. We will live tweet the event from the @RunwayGirl Twitter handle using the hashtags #IATA_CabinSafety and #PaxEx (which means ‘passenger experience’).

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