The government should require that air shipments of rechargeable batteries be separated from other flammable cargo to prevent uncontrollable fires that can destroy planes, the chairman of a federal accident investigations board said Tuesday.
The recommendation is based on an investigation by South Korean authorities of the destruction of an Asiana Airlines cargo plane in July 2011, said Chris Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
A fire on board the plane developed on or near two pallets situated close together, one containing lithium-ion batteries for hybrid-electric cars and the other flammable liquids used in the production of monitors.
Although what ignited the fire could not be determined, the board is concerned that in the event of an in-flight fire the close proximity of rechargeable batteries to other flammable cargo can increase the severity of the fire and reduce the time the flight crew has to respond, Hart said in a letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Seventeen minutes after the Asiana pilots reported the fire, the Boeing 747 broke up over the South China Sea despite desperate efforts to reach a place to land. Both pilots were killed.
At the behest of the battery and consumer electronics industry, Congress passed a law in 2012 prohibiting the Department of Transportation, including PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), from issuing regulations regarding the shipment of lithium batteries that are more stringent than standards issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. panel.
However, NTSB said in a statement that PHMSA can issue regulations requiring the separation of rechargeable batteries from other flammable cargo because the 2012 law makes an exception for when there is “credible evidence of a deficiency in the international regulations that has substantially contributed to the start or spread of an on-board fire.”