ALPA Pilot Testifies on Lithium Batteries

November 18, 2009 - First Officer Mark Rogers (United), director of ALPA’s Dangerous Goods Program, testified (oral testimony | written submission) this week before a U.S. House Subcommittee on behalf of ALPA in support of tighter restrictions on the shipment of lithium batteries. The hearing was held November 16 in Baltimore before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

Rogers testimony supported the Hazardous Material Transportation Act of 2009 (H.R. 4016), proposed legislation that would place tighter restrictions on the shipment of lithium batteries. “If lithium batteries shipped aboard airliners are damaged, defective, or improperly packaged, a fire may occur, leading to potentially catastrophic consequences,” said Rogers. “To mitigate this risk, it is necessary to remove the exceptions in place today and (fully) regulate lithium batteries as a hazardous material, including provisions for enhanced marking, labeling, testing, and packaging requirements.” He noted that notification to the pilot in command is also essential.

“At least six additional fires involving lithium batteries aboard aircraft or in packages prepared for air transport have been documented since I testified before this subcommittee in May,” said Rogers. Referencing the current rule-making efforts of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), he noted, “Nearly two years have passed since the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) issued recommendations to PHMSA to remove regulatory exceptions for lithium batteries.”

Responding to a question from a subcommittee member, Rogers described a scenario in which a shipment of lithium batteries could be placed next to flammable paint, which is fully regulated and classified as a dangerous good. The crew in this example would be notified about the location and quantity of the paint, but not the potential incendiary device sitting next to it.