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UN panel bans lithium-ion batteries from passenger plane cargo

Batteries common in laptops, cellphones, and yes, hoverboards

David Becker/Getty Images

A UN panel on aviation is recommending a total ban on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft, Reuters reported Tuesday. The same group rejected a ban on battery shipments last October, but reversed course earlier this year after pilots and airplane manufacturers said they were a fire risk.

Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used in rechargeable consumer products like cellphones and laptops. The batteries can still be transported in cargo planes, but starting April 1st they will be prohibited from commercial aircraft. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said the ban will be in place until a new fire-resistant packaging standard is designed to transport the batteries, which is not expected until 2018. The prohibition is mandatory for ICAO member states, which include 191 countries around the globe.

The ban starts April 1st

The drumbeat to ban the batteries from passenger planes has been growing over the last year, especially as they become more commonplace in the market. In March 2015, a group representing aircraft manufacturers like Boeing submitted a paper to the ICAO stating lithium-ion batteries represented "an unacceptable risk." A similar fear was expressed later by the US Federal Aviation Administration, which said a battery-related explosion could seriously compromise plane safety.

In December, many of the large commercial air carriers announced a ban on self-balancing scooters (aka hoverboards) with lithium-ion batteries. The US Consumer Safety Products Commission recently said that it has received over 50 reports of fires related to lithium-ion battery-equipped hoverboards. Around 5.4 billion lithium-ion batteries were manufactured in 2014, with around 70 percent of these transported by cargo ship.