Friday, November 20, 2009

ALPA to Congress: Tighter restrictions on lithium batteries, please

by B. N. Sullivan

Mark RogersEarlier this week, a representative of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials regarding the union's position on the shipment of lithium batteries aboard commercial aircraft. Mark Rogers, who is the director of ALPA’s Dangerous Goods Program, gave testimony in support of the Hazardous Material Transportation Act of 2009 (H.R. 4016), proposed legislation that would place tighter restrictions on the shipment of lithium batteries.

Rogers, who is a First Officer with United Airlines, told subcommittee members, “If lithium batteries shipped aboard airliners are damaged, defective, or improperly packaged, a fire may occur, leading to potentially catastrophic consequences. 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.”

Rogers stressed that notification to the pilot in command also is essential. 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.

“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. He also noted that nearly two years have passed since the NTSB issued recommendations to subcommittee to remove regulatory exceptions for lithium batteries.

Here are the links to the text of the oral testimony and written submission presented to Congress by Mark Rogers, on behalf of ALPA.

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