MONTREAL/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - New global packaging standards expected in late 2018 will allow lithium-ion batteries back into passenger plane cargo holds, pending design and regulatory approval, but some airlines say the new rule overlooks other safety concerns.
It will reverse a 2016 suspension due to fire risks, but some airlines argue that packaging alone will not fully protect against cargo battery fires because battery shipments are sometimes mislabeled. Airlines and battery makers want jet designs to factor in better cargo fire-safety measures.
Carriers interviewed by Reuters described finding packages of mislabeled lithium-ion batteries, often by shippers trying to avert the ban. Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department, the regulator of the world’s busiest air cargo hub, flagged cases of battery packages mislabeled in manifests as clothes, shoes and toys in a 2017 notice to airlines.
It is not clear how many mislabeled battery packages are transported by air, or discovered, but carriers fear it could continue as some shippers try to avoid the anticipated higher costs of proper packaging.
“The sheer number of batteries produced is growing and is measured in the billions,” said Association of Asia Pacific Airlines Director-General Andrew Herdman. “There is a problem with false declaration or non-declaration of such items.”
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (0293.HK) conducts random checks to ensure packages are properly labeled, but it can’t “catch everyone,” Rick Howell, general manager group safety and security, said at a recent Montreal safety conference.
That’s why Howell and others are also calling for new jet models to include better cargo fire safety protections since planes were designed before the battery threat.
“Cargo holds of