Confusion over UK policy on airline battery ban

January 18, 2008

There is confusion over the British government’s policy as to whether airline passengers are allowed to carry spare rechargeable batteries in their checked-in luggage, after an outright ban in the United States.

Earlier this week the United States government issued a direct warning to photographers of the potential risks when rechargeable lithium-ion batteries overheat and short-circuit.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) warns that batteries can be short-circuited if their terminals are bridged by a metal object such as a coin or jewellery.

The risks have escalated lately owing to the growing consumer market for counterfeit batteries, fuelled by the launch of new electronic products such as digital cameras.

The US Department of Transportation now requires passengers to carry any loose lithium-ion batteries on board as hand luggage, for storage in the aircraft cabin where any incidents can be detected quickly and more easily than in the aircraft?s hold.

However, a Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman in the UK told Amateur Photographer that it has no plans to bring in such a ban, telling us: ?It?s a matter for the US internally. They?ve taken their decision.?

She added: ?This is a safety issue and so it would be for the CAA [to decide].?

Though the CAA recommends that spare batteries are stored in carry-on luggage, the DfT’s comments appear to suggest that a US-style ban is not in place.

The CAA – which is the aviation industry watchdog – told us that its recommendations constitute a ‘ban’ and has hinted that it may contact the DfT to discuss this matter further following the government’s response to Amateur Photographer.

A CAA spokesman insisted: ‘The US has been catching up with regulations in this country for some time,’ adding that its advice must be followed by airline operators. ‘Spare batteries must only be carried in carry-on baggage and not in checked-in bags.’

In advice issued last April the CAA outlined the potential danger posed by ?inappropriately packed? batteries following several incidents on aircraft and at airports.

According to the CAA, previous incidents have included a fire in an overhead locker on an aircraft which had just taken off from New York?s JFK airport last February.

The fire was believed to have been caused by a battery carried on board by a cameraman.

The CAA advises passengers to carry spare batteries in their original packaging or, if not available, to insulate the terminals so they cannot come into contact with other metal objects.

?You can pack each battery in its own protective case, resealable plastic bag (e.g. sturdy freezer bag) or package, or cover the terminals with insulation tape,? adds the CAA.

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