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UN panel recommends banning lithium-ion battery cargo on passenger planes

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Ban wouldn't cover cargo planes or carry-on luggage

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The international argument over the safety of transporting lithium-ion batteries by air continues to swing back and forth, with a UN panel now recommending a total ban of cargo shipments of such rechargeable batteries on passenger planes. Similar restrictions were rejected by the UN last October, but according to a report from the Associated Press the regulations are now back on the negotiating table.

A single defective battery can start a chain reaction

The debate over lithium-ion batteries has become more urgent recently as the batteries become more common. In March last year, an organization representing the world's largest aircraft manufacturers submitted a paper to the UN's International Civilian Aviation Organization (ICAO) stating that shipments of lithium-ion batteries represented "an unacceptable risk." The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) later echoed these fears, noting that a single defective or damaged battery can lead to an entire shipment catching fire, possibly creating explosions big enough to disable airliners' internal firefighting measures. An FAA official described the risk as "immediate and urgent" last October, and in December there was a run of airlines banning the shipment of explosion-prone lithium-ion powered hoverboards.

Around 5.4 billion lithium-ion batteries were manufactured in 2014, with around 70 percent of these transported by cargo ship. The ICAO's recommendations do not cover shipment by cargo planes, and include a suggestion to lift any future ban if safer packaging suitable for planes is created. The recommendations will now be turned over to the ICAO's highest council, which would need to approve the ban later this month.