NTSB Issues Safety Recommendations about lithium batteries as cargo on aircraft

Tis Meyer /

The National Transportation Safety Board issued two safety recommendations Tuesday to physically separate lithium batteries from other flammable hazardous materials stowed on cargo aircraft and to establish maximum loading density requirements that restrict the quantities of lithium batteries and flammable hazardous materials.

These safety recommendations, addressed to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, are derived from the investigation of the July 28, 2011, in-flight fire and crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 991 in international waters about 80 miles west of Jeju International Airport. The NTSB participated in the investigation, headed by the Republic of Korea’s Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board.

Asiana Airlines Cargo Flight 991 was a cargo flight which crashed into the Korea Strait on 28 July 2011. The two crew members aboard died. The aircraft involved, a Boeing 747-400F freighter, was operating Asiana Airlines’ scheduled international cargo service from Incheon International Airport, South Korea to Shanghai Pudong International Airport, China. The crash occurred off the coast of Jeju Island after the crew reported a fire in the cargo compartment and had been attempting to divert to Jeju International Airport.

Lithium batteries carried as cargo can be:

– A fire and explosion ignition source.
– A source of fuel to an existing fire.

Subjected to overheating that can create an explosive condition.

“The National Transportation Safety Board urges the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to take action on these safety recommendations to reduce the likelihood and severity of potential cargo fires and to provide additional time for the crew to safely land a cargo aircraft in the event a fire is detected,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart.

PHMSA generally cannot issue regulations or enforce requirements for the safe transportation of lithium cells and batteries that are more restrictive than international regulations. But Congress has given PHMSA authority to do so if it finds credible evidence of a deficiency in the international regulations that has substantially contributed to the start or spread of an on-board fire. The NTSB strongly believes the circumstances and findings in the Asiana Flight 991 accident show the need for new cargo segregation and loading density requirements.

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