Forwarders ask IATA for lithium battery checklist

A checklist for forwarders to verify whether shipments contain lithium batteries would enable them to improve air cargo safety standards for dangerous goods.

Though this is not required per the dangerous goods shipment standards from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and no such checklist is published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), at a session on lithium battery shipments at AirCargo 2020 in Nashville, an attendee from forwarder C.H. Robinson requested that IATA publish one.

IATA currently publishes similar checklists for shipments that are radioactive, nonradioactive and that contain dry ice, but according to David Brennan, the IATA assistant director of cargo safety and standards, lithium ion battery shipments pose hazards unlike any other product shipped by air. The chemical and electrical nature of the batteries can allow them to short-circuit, sending them into “thermal runaway,” in which the temperature rises rapidly as all of the batteries’ energy is expended at once. When this happens, the batteries also release hydrocarbon gases, including hydrogen, which can lead to explosions. Shipments of standalone lithium batteries are banned on passenger aircraft because, when packed together, any thermal runaway can begin a chain reaction among all the batteries in the shipment.

IATA’s Brennan called on forwarders in attendance at the session to make every effort to work with their shippers on dangerous goods education, and to use common sense to identify the few shippers who may deliberately mislead forwarders and carriers about the contents of their shipments. While Brennan acknowledged there’s no easy way to do this, the C.H. Robinson attendee said a checklist to verify the shipment at its origin would be a good first step.

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