The debate over security regulations that restrict the shipment of lithium batteries took a new turn April 1 when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed H.R. 658, the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act. The bill lays out the budget for FAA programs through 2014, cutting the Authority’s budget by $4 billion. While focused on the FAA budget, the bill also contains amendments that tackle other aviation issues, among them, lithium battery regulation.
Section 814 of the FAA bill states:
“The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not issue or enforce any regulation or other requirement regarding the transportation by aircraft of lithium metal cells or batteries or lithium ion cells or batteries…if the requirement is more stringent than the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air.”
Lithium batteries are used in a variety of products, including laptops, cameras and plug-in vehicles. They are critical to the booming international technology market.
Those in favor of regulation argue lithium batteries pose a safety risk and that their transport on airplanes should be more tightly controlled. In September 2010, a UPS plane carrying a shipment of lithium batteries crashed in Dubai killing both pilots, and a new report from the United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority suggests necessary precautions to handle the batteries were not taken.
One of the primary concerns from those who oppose stricter control has been that U.S. regulations that are more stringent than international standards would increase the cost of goods, burden manufacturers and unnecessarily slow the international supply chain. In response to a previously proposed amendment that would have banned the shipment of all lithium batteries, the National Association of Manufacturers argued that “billions of lithium batteries are shipped by air cargo every year without incident.”
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the chief sponsor of H.R. 658, said, “Regulations that are not harmonized with international safety standards will disrupt the free flow of commerce and threaten jobs.”
While the bill passed the Republican-controlled House, it still must pass the Democratic-controlled senate, which in February passed its own two-year, $34.5 billion version of the FAA bill.