Air transport of batteries is subject to a number of specific restrictions and guidelines with regard to packing, labeling, and documentation. These limitations are stricter if these goods are transported on passenger flights, the most commonly used method for express and postal shipping of e-commerce goods.
This is because, under certain conditions, these batteries can cause fires that are difficult to extinguish inside the aircraft given their special temperature and pressure conditions.
Lithium batteries and cells can be found in electronics, such as mobile phones, tablets, watches, chargers, cameras, and other similar electronic devices.
Understanding these aspects is vitally important for people who send these kinds of products, as they are legally responsible for compliance with the applicable regulations, in addition to ensuring that the shipments are not rejected by airlines. That is why Cacesa would like to give you some guidance on your role to guarantee risk-free transport of cells and batteries.
What kinds of batteries are subject to these regulations?
All lithium batteries are considered dangerous goods both by the IATA (International Aviation Transport Association) and the OACI (International Civil Aviation Organization).
Lithium metal batteries or primary batteries, which are not rechargeable (regular batteries) and are identified by the codes UN3090 and UN3091, and lithium ion batteries or secondary batteries (rechargeable), identified with codes UN3480 and UN3481, are different. The first codes of both types of batteries refer to batteries that are transported by themselves and the second refers to batteries that are in the same package as the electronic device to be powered or those already installed in said device.
Restrictions on the air transport of lithium batteries
The IATA and OACI are very clear when specifying which lithium batteries cannot be transported on passenger flights:
- Codes UN 3480 (loose lithium ion batteries) and UN 3490 (loose lithium metal batteries) are prohibited on passenger flights. UN 3081 and UN 3091 are allowed with weight and Wh restrictions.
- Defective batteries that have been recalled from the market for any reason, regardless of whether they are loose or inside a device.
- Batteries to be recycled or that have been used, except with express approval from the government of the operator or the government of origin.
Pursuant to Section II of the Packing Instructions 966, 967, 969, and 970, the restrictions applicable to lithium batteries in good condition, are as follows:
- UN 3091 (lithium metal batteries contained in equipment and lithium metal batteries packed with equipment):
- The package cannot contain batteries with more than 2 grams of lithium per unit. This restriction is 1 gram in the case of cells.
- UN 3481 (lithium ion batteries contained in equipment and lithium ion batteries packed with equipment):
- The package cannot contain batteries with more than 100 Wh of lithium per unit. In the case of cells, this is reduced to 20 Wh per unit.
- The total weight of the batteries contained in the package cannot exceed 5 kg.
Packing conditions for air transport of lithium batteries
The regulations set by the IATA and OACI with regard to air transport of lithium batteries and cells require the following with regard to packing:
- Use non-conductive materials to avoid short circuits.
- Used packaging must have been tested and comply with the provisions of Part III, Subsection 38.3 of the UN Manual.
- Guarantee that the batteries cannot move inside their packaging.
- Use vessels able to withstand falls of 120 cm or more without damage.
- Batteries or cells cannot be charged more than 30%.
- Be equipped with a means to effectively prevent inadvertent activation.
- Have the lithium battery handling label.
- Only two spare batteries may be included, in addition to the number required to power the equipment, without exceeding 5 kg per package.
- Among other requirements.
Conclusions with regard to air transport of lithium batteries
Remember that the instructions indicated here correspond to the general limits imposed by the regulations, however, in many cases airlines establish their own additional restrictions or bans on accepting this kind of cargo. We therefore recommend checking prior to shipping.
In short, following the instructions for safe transport of lithium cells and batteries will allow you avoid legal consequences as well as expand your transport options so that your merchandise to arrive on time and at the lowest cost possible.
Cacesa makes its dangerous goods transport and handling experts available to customers to answer any further questions you may have.
To download: IATA Lithium Battery Guidance Document