Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonThe Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Overnight Tech: Senate votes to eliminate Obama internet privacy rules | FCC chief wants to stay out of 'political debate' on fake news | Wikileaks reveals new CIA docs FCC chairman: Whether NY Times, CNN, NBC are 'fake news' is a ‘political debate’ MORE (D-Fla.) is introducing legislation that would give the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the authority to ban shipments of lithium ion batteries by air.
Federal rules currently require the FAA to defer to international aviation rules for lithium batteries, which have been linked to fires on commercial and cargo airplanes.
Most major airlines already prohibit passengers from carrying lithium batteries in their luggage after warnings from federal regulators, but aviation groups have been pushing for bans on cargo flights.
The FAA issued a new warning that called for airlines to "reevaluate" whether they can safely handle cargo shipments of the batteries.
"Before operators engage in the transport of lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft, or lithium ion or lithium metal batteries on cargo aircraft, be aware that ICAO and major airframe manufacturers (Boeing and Airbus) have recommended that operators perform safety risk assessments in order to establish whether, or how, they can manage the risk associated with the transport of these batteries," the agency said in a safety alert.
"The FAA strongly supports these recommendations," the alert continued. "The FAA encourages those operators who have previously performed a risk assessment to reevaluate their assessment in light of the further evidence gained through the recent testing of lithium batteries. Operators that have implemented a formal Safety Management System (SMS) should accomplish a Safety Risk Assessment (SRA), in accordance with the Safety Risk Management process in its SMS."
Federal rules currently prohibit airlines from carrying lithium-metal batteries, but aviation groups have said the ban should go further.
“Transportation authorities around the world look to the Unites States as the leader in aviation safety. However, the 2012 FAA reauthorization contained language, Section 828, which precludes the agency from being able to regulate this issue," the Air Line Pilots Association said in a statement.
"[The FAA's] Safety Alert for Operators is a prime example of how the FAA must rely on the airlines to voluntarily comply with safe operating practices with respect to lithium battery shipments," the pilots' union continued. "It is imperative that Congress repeal Section 828 and give our country the ability to once again lead the world in advancing aviation safety."
Electronic and retail groups have defended the current rules on air shipments of lithium ion batteries, saying they "will maintain the principle of harmonization while assuring U.S. regulations are updated to reflect the most recent ICAO actions and, of equal importance, assure more aggressive action to enforce international safety standards.
"What is needed now is tough enforcement of these rules. The problem is not the carriage of lithium batteries on aircraft, but the proper handling of those products," a group of 12 electronic and retail organizations that included the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) wrote in a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday.
"Too many manufacturers and shippers, especially in certain regions of the world, ignore existing labeling and packaging requirements," the groups continued. "This will continue until enforcement is substantially increased. Putting effort and resources into enforcement is the appropriate way to address concerns with battery transportation safety."
Lithium batteries became a topic of concern in aviation circles after fires on Boeing's 787 "Dreamliner" during its 2013 rollout drew attention to problems with transporting them.
A funding bill for the FAA that is being considered this week in the House "establishes a Lithium Ion Battery Safety Advisory Committee to foster collaboration on lithium ion battery safety in air transportation," although it stops short of implementing a total ban.
The aviation funding measure also "directs the [Transportation] secretary to issue regulations consistent with international technical instructions banning lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft."
Nelson's office said his measure "would repeal a ban Congress enacted in 2012 prohibiting the FAA from imposing restrictions on transporting lithium-ion batteries that exceed those recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
"The legislation also creates a task force comprised of the Department of Transportation, Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to promote research and new standards for the safe manufacture, use, or transportation of lithium-based batteries," the Florida senator's office said.