Australians transporting mobile phones in their airport baggage or via Australia Post may unwittingly be in breach of local and global regulations regarding lithium-ion battery transport.
The energy-dense batteries are banned from being transported in checked luggage and air freight, due to the risk of them spontaneously combusting under certain circumstances.
According to the US Federal Aviation Administration (pdf), combustion may occur “when a battery short circuits, is overcharged, is heated to extreme temperatures, is mishandled, or is otherwise defective”.
Regulations developed by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) state that "Lithium Ion Batteries with a Watt-hour rating exceeding 160 Wh" are not permitted on Australian aircraft.
Smaller batteries for portable electronic devices are allowed under specific conditions in carry-on baggage as long as their capacity is less than 100 Wh and they contain less than 2g lithium.
As an example, a Lenovo Thinkpad 9 cell laptop battery is rated at 94Wh. The IATA says batteries over 100Wh capacity may require airline approval.
Smaller batteries are allowed under specific conditions in either checked or carry-on baggage, depending on their capacity.
Airline passengers typically sign declarations stating that they are complying with dangerous goods regulations – although they may not be fully aware of the requirements.
A Qantas spokesperson told iTnews that the airline's "policy on lithium batteries satisfies all relevant regulations”.
Senders of express post satchels are required to make similar declarations, which could provide legal protection to airlines and Australia Post should any lithium-ion battery related fires occur.
An Australian Post spokesperson told iTnews that it imposes a blanket ban on sending any sized lithium-ion battery by air freight due to "IATA requirements as well as other regulatory schemes, CASA and other air carrier requirements.
“Australia Post will accept articles containing lithium batteries for carriage by road transport only within Australia, provided that certain requirements (pdf) are met,” the spokesperson said.
Battery transport is further complicated by the increasing popularity of third-party extended capacity lithium-ion clone batteries.
These are banned altogether from air transport by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
IATA Passenger Baggage guidelines (pdf) warn consumers to “be vigilant when buying replacement batteries from unknown sources, such as on markets or internet auction platforms.
“The differences between genuine and copied battery types may not be visible but could be very dangerous; such untested batteries may have a risk of overheating or causing fires”.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a warning video in late 2007 which shows how a laptop at LAX airport caught fire while being charged at a wall socket.
Undeclared consignments of lithium batteries in the cargo hold are suspected to be the cause of UPS Flight 006 crashing in the United Arab Emirates on September 3, 2010, resulting in the loss of life of the captain and first officer as well as total write-off of the Boeing 747 aircraft.