Shipping Lithium Batteries By Air

As the global demand for lithium batteries continues to increase, so does the demand to ship or import lithium batteries particularly by Air. Shipping lithium batteries is extremely common, yet it is a complicated process guided by strict regulations.

Lithium-ion batteries are the most popular type of rechargeable batteries for portable electronics. They have become the preferred energy source and are used to power a wide variety of electronic devices and equipment, including: laptops, smartphones, tablets, medical equipment, power tools, electric vehicles, e-bikes etc.

The difference between lithium batteries and lithium-ion batteries is that most lithium batteries are disposable and usually non-rechargeable, whereas lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable. Although lithium batteries are not rechargeable, they have a higher energy density than lithium-ion batteries and offer more in the way of capacity. A lithium-polymer battery is considered a type of lithium-ion battery.

Lithium batteries are classified as dangerous goods, much like gasoline, propane and sulphuric acid and subject to International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations. IATA requires that any person preparing or offering cells or batteries for transport must receive adequate instructions on these regulations commensurate with their responsibilities. To help with compliance, IATA has developed guidance for shippers, freight forwarders, ground handlers, airlines and passengers. Regulations specify requirements for classification, documentation, labelling, packaging and training.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations specialized agency, prohibits lithium-ion cargo shipments on passenger aircraft, as per ICAO Air Navigation Commission (ANC) recommendations. The prohibiting of lithium-ion cargo shipments on passenger aircraft has been eagerly awaited by aircraft manufacturer and pilots associations, which have been the most vocal advocates for the new safety measure. All designs and types of lithium batteries must meet the requirements of the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria and ICAO Technical Instructions in order to be shipped safely.

In Canada, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act (TDG), remains focused on the prevention of incidents when dangerous goods are imported, handled, offered for transport and transported. Shippers and importers must meet the requirements set out in the TDG Regulations for the handling, offering for transport, transporting and importing of lithium batteries in Canada. The requirements vary by mode of transport.

The TDG Regulations regulate lithium-ion batteries based on their Wh rating. The Wh indicates the amount of energy contained in a lithium battery. The Wh rating must appear on the battery case. If it’s not there, you can calculate the Wh rating using TDG approved formulas or contact its manufacturer.

When you ship or import lithium batteries, including those “contained in” or “packed with” devices and equipment, you must meet shipping requirements outlined in the regulations and declare package contents to air carriers, couriers, freight forwarders or transport companies.

The difference between “contained in equipment” and “packed with equipment” is:

  • A lithium-ion or metal battery “contained in equipment” means that the battery is fitted or joined to the actual device.
  • A lithium-ion or metal battery “packed with equipment” is not fitted or joined to the device.

Lithium batteries contained inside equipment are protected from short circuit because they are secured in the actual device and cannot move around during transport. Making sure switches or power buttons are not accidentally turned on during transport is important.

Lithium batteries packed with equipment need to be isolated from metal objects or other conductive materials by enclosing each one separately, insulating terminals with a non-conductive material and ensuring they do not shift during transport.

Make sure the lithium batteries in your shipment are not counterfeit before shipping or importing them. Buy lithium batteries from a reputable manufacturer or distributor that has documented proof that the batteries have been tested and meet the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria and ICAO Technical Instructions. Counterfeit and no-brand lithium batteries may be poorly designed, have little protection or contain manufacturing flaws.

During transportation, lithium batteries are exposed to many environmental stressors, including low pressure (due to altitude), high humidity, temperature extremes, high-rates of temperature change and air quality, as well as, mechanical stressors such as shock, vibration, drop, puncture and abrasion.

Declare your lithium batteries regardless of the mode you are using to ship your lithium batteries. Your shipment may end up on an aircraft at some point, so prepare your shipment accordingly.

While most lithium batteries are safe, some have overheated and caught fire. Once ignited, they can cause any nearby batteries to overheat and catch fire. These fires are difficult to put out and produce toxic, irritating fumes and an aircraft’s fire suppression system may be unable to extinguish all types of lithium battery fires.

As an airline passenger, you should carry spare lithium batteries or lithium batteries contained in equipment – like your smartphone, laptop or tablet – with you in your carry-on baggage. For larger items containing lithium batteries, such as mobility aids or medical equipment, you should contact your air carrier for further details.

Need more details or have any questions about shipping Air Cargo, Ocean Freight and/or Ground Transport? Our Cargo Spectrum representatives are here to help. Call us on 1.888.273.5575 | Request a Quote | Email us at info@cargospectrum.com. Learn more about Cargo Spectrum.

As an Approved Participant in Transport Canada’s Air Cargo Security (ACS) Program, Cargo Spectrum has prepared & organized acceptance procedures to accommodate Transport Canada’s regulatory measures for cargo being transported onboard passenger aircrafts.