Government Support Needed to make Transport of Lithium Batteries Even Safer

Doha – 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on governments to further support the safe carriage of lithium batteries by developing and implementing global standards for screening, fire-testing, and incident information sharing. 

This after Mr. Akbar Al Baker Qatar Airways Group -Chief Executive told a media press conference at the end of the 78th IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit that took place in Doha, Qatar, that just two months ago one of Qatar Airways planes experience a safety issue -when a lithium battery it was transporting started to smoke. “If it weren’t for the alertness of our crew that made an emergency landing in Pakistan we could easily lose lives ,” Mr. Akbar Al Baker stated .

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker answering questions from journalists

The Qatar Airways boss attributed the threats associated with transporting lithium batteries to misdeclaration by some rouge elements in the industry , poor packaging and inspection by airlines and airports authorities . The IATA Director General Mr. Willie Walsh has since called for effective control measures to avert accidents .

“With many products shipped by air, effective standards, globally implemented, are needed to ensure safety. The challenge is the rapid increase in global demand of lithium batteries (the market is growing 30% annually) bringing many new shippers into air cargo supply chains. A critical risk that is evolving, for example, concerns incidents of undeclared or mis-declared shipments, ” he added .

IATA has long called for governments to step-up enforcement of safety regulation for the transport of lithium batteries. This should include stiffer penalties for rogue shippers and the criminalization of egregious or willful offenses. IATA asked governments to shore up those activities with additional measures that should include -the development of specific standards and processes by governments to support the safe transport of lithium batteries. ” It is critical that these standards and processes be outcome based and globally harmonized.”

IATA says that governments should develop a testing standard for fires involving lithium batteries to evaluate supplementary protection measures over and above the existing cargo compartment fire suppression systems. ” Safety data is critical to understanding and managing lithium battery risks effectively. Better information sharing and coordination on lithium battery incidents among governments and with the industry is essential to help managing lithium battery risks effectively. 

IATA Director General Mr. Willie Walsh with media personalities from Africa region

“Airlines, shippers, manufacturers, and governments all want to ensure the safe transport of lithium batteries by air. It’s a joint responsibility. The industry is raising the bar to consistently apply existing standards and share critical information on rogue shippers. But there are some areas where the leadership of governments is critical. Stronger enforcement of existing regulations and the criminalization of abuses will send a strong signal to rogue shippers. And the accelerated development of standards for screening, information exchange, and fire containment will give the industry even more effective tools to work with,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.   

Some 1,000 aviation leaders from IATA member airlines, governments, industry stakeholders, strategic partners and members of the media attended the event. 



Writer is a media and communications consultant And Advocate of the High Court of Uganda

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