Stricter Rules For Battery-Powered Devices Seen

The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing to impose stricter regulations for small, battery-powered devices such as laptops, smart phones, and the like. The new rules are also seen to exclude alkaline and nickel metal-hydride batteries in allowed checked-in baggage. Thus, airline passengers will not find it easy to travel with laptops from now on.

From now on, small lithium cells and batteries in laptops with 60-80 watt-hours in battery power will be covered by the prohibition. In fact, the government’s proposed regulation extends to batteries with less than 100-watt hours in capacity. The removal of the previous exemption does not consider the fact that small lithium batteries are normally considered as class 9 hazardous materials, meaning, it falls in a similar category as dry ice and magnetized goods.

With the new rules, the department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator (PHSMA), together with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will now require manufacturers and transport companies to utilize additional packaging materials. This will help in minimizing accidents during handling and shipping by air by subjecting lithium batteries to the same set of regulations as flammable paint or dry ice.

The proposed rules will also be tighter for the air shipment of all kinds of battery-powered goods. It will cover electronics and computer goods, power tools, defibrillators, iPads, and even, battery-powered hearing aids. It will now require manufacturers and shipping companies to provide extra padding inside the box like fiberboards and “fully-regulated hazmats”. Purchasing these products online will now get more expensive as the added costs for the additional packaging will most likely be passed on to the customers.

A number of critics to the proposed rules like George Kerchner, who is the executive director of the Washington D.C. -based Portable Rechargeable Battery Association complains that these are tighter regulations compared to other countries following the International Civil Aviation Organization. What’s more, it will mean higher costs for packaging by the shipper, and eventually, an additional $30 to $40 expense by the consumer. Kerchner cites that what is simply needed is to address the weak enforcement of existing rules instead of crafting stricter rules.

On the other hand, the statistics show that since 1991, there have been 40 air transport-related incidents due to lithium batteries and devices powered by lithium batteries. But industry experts like Kerchner disputes that this is a small number in comparison to the fact that, in 2008 alone, about 3.3. Billion lithium batteries were transported. According to him, this indicates that shippers are fully compliant as shown by their excellent safety record.

The new guidelines will now require airline passengers to avoid bringing their extra alkaline or rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries in their checked-in luggage. What the rules allow is to place those batteries inside the laptops or similar devices. It will also allow the storage of these batteries inside the carry-on luggage whether inside or outside the devices.

Another rule change refers to electronic goods that are placed in the cargo section of an airplane. These will be allowed only if the cargo hold does have its own fire suppression systems, or is easily accessed by the pilots when there is a fire. This rules seems to suggest that electronic goods can still be carried as long as they are in fireproof chambers and easily accessible to the pilot.

Want to know more about the proposed rules? Check it online at the Department of Transportation’s website.

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