Can I ship lithium batteries by air?

This question was answered by Jonathan Bell, commercial director of Liteplan Limited.

There are some restrictions in the transportation of lithium batteries.

Since the air incidents including the Galaxy Note 7 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the IATA (International Air Transport Association) has set out strict guidelines surrounding air transportation of all batteries containing lithium. The incidents that occurred involved either unstable lithium cobalt oxide batteries, in the case of the Dreamliner, or faulty cells that were apparently manufactured in haste for the release of the smartphone.

We know that lithium iron phosphate is a far safer technology. The batteries feature over-voltage/current protection and short circuit protection, and are far more stable than even NiCd batteries when subjected to pierce or destruction tests. The problem is, at this stage, all rechargeable lithium batteries are covered under the same guidelines, which must be respected.

For the air transportation of new lithium batteries, we recommend always shipping lithium iron phosphate batteries with their associated control gear, or within the luminaire that it is going to power. This would bring your consignment under the banner of UN3481 with packaging instruction 966: lithium batteries packaged with equipment. For this you will need to include a UN3481 label on the outside of your packaging, including the shipper’s contact number. This packaging instruction stipulates that for batteries with a watt hour rating of less than 100Wh, there is a weight limit of 5kg per package – and that packaging needs to pass a 1.2m drop test and retain its integrity.

The manufacturer/supplier of your emergency lighting batteries will be able to advise you on the Wh rating of the batteries, although standard emergency lighting batteries will be well below the 100Wh limit required by packaging instruction 966.

The IATA estimates that over a billion lithium batteries are flown across the world each year. You will recognise label UN3481 from other consumer goods you may have received from overseas. It’s now extremely common.

Note: This was the situation in October 2017. If legislation changes, we will update this advice. Please be sure to check with the authorities to confirm restrictions when you are transporting lithium batteries.

To read other questions answered by Jonathan Bell at Liteplan Limited click here.

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