Saturday, December 6, 2014

Should Air Passengers Have To Fly With Potentially Exploding "Bombs" in Cargo Holds?

This photo from the FAA shows the cargo hold of a jetliner (in a facility at Atlantic City) exploding after a heater was placed in proximity to 5,000 packed lithium -ion batteries.

The gov't does all in its power, via the TSA, FBI and other agencies,  to secure passengers so they aren't faced with exploding terrorist shoe bombs on their flights. So the question is: Why won't the powers-that-be do all in their capacity to prevent such an explosive event from occurring on flights which may be laden with rechargeable lithium -ion batteries that can be triggered  under certain conditions - enough to possibly bring down a plane?

Dramatic government test results (conducted by the FAA- see, e.g. image above) raise intense and growing  concern that bulk shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries carried as cargo on passenger planes are susceptible to fires or explosions that could destroy the airliners. In an April test by the Federal Aviation Administration, a cargo container was packed with 5,000 lithium-ion batteries and a cartridge heater added to simulate a single battery experiencing uncontrolled overheating. The heat from the cartridge triggered escalating overheating in nearby batteries, which spread in a chain reaction. Temperatures reached about 1,100 degrees.

Once about 300 batteries had become involved, a fierce explosion blew open the container door and sent boxes flying, catching FAA and industry observers by surprise. Within seconds, the cargo container was in flames. The explosion came from a buildup of flammable gases. A second test in September produced similar results, despite the addition of a fire suppression agent. Safety authorities have long known that lithium-ion batteries can fuel violent fires if they are defective, damaged, overcharged, incorrectly packaged or exposed to extreme heat. But they have been allowed to be shipped on passenger planes because it was thought the halon gas fire suppression systems in the cargo compartments of airliners could extinguish any fire.

 Yet U.S. and international officials have been slow to adopt safety restrictions that might affect the powerful industries that depend on the batteries and the airlines that profit from shipping them.

Do we have the Neoliberal Business model at work again?  Yes, we do! The batteries are used in products ranging from cellphones and laptops to hybrid cars, and 7 billion are shipped each year. The gov't then (in terms of lax regulations) in collusion with the airlines, is simply betting on a cost benefit advantage where they won't encounter a catastrophic event. They are betting the literal farm that the money saved in bulk shipping by air will result in minimal loss of passengers' lives over the time the mass shipping is done. But this is a fool's errand which eventually won't work out because we've already had cases that ought to sound alarms. (The most recent a Fed-Ex crash-  which killed two in 2011.).

Of course, our WHORE Congress - bought and paid for by corporations- is partly to blame. U.S. regulators' hands have been tied by a 2012 law that Congress enacted in response to industry lobbying. It prohibits the government from issuing regulations any more stringent than the U.N. agency's standards unless an international investigative agency can show the batteries ignited a fire that destroyed an aircraft. But that's difficult, since in the three cases thus far in which batteries are suspected of causing fires that destroyed the planes, the aircraft were too damaged to determine the source of the blaze..  According to Tom Haueter, a former National Transportation Safety Board air crash investigator.

"I don't think we should wait for an accident before we take action,"

But like the drone manufacturers itching to get their beasties into the skies -t he industry says "commerce would be hurt" if tougher regs are implemented. In this case if countries have varying shipping standards. Instead, The Rechargeable Battery Association urges stepped-up enforcement of existing standards.

But this may not be much use if battery shippers are cutting corners. As we know the Neoliberal rats are wont to do. In inspection campaign by Canadian authorities, for example, it was found that 78 percent of companies that ship lithium batteries by air weren't declaring their shipments properly and "a surprising number of companies" had shipped damaged, defective and waste batteries

By contrast to the U.S , The U.N.'s civil aviation agency (that our whores in congress invoked) is considering a series of proposals to strengthen packaging, labeling and handling standards for lithium-ion battery shipments, and airline pilot unions are pushing for limits on the number of batteries that can be transported. Meanwhile, to its credit,  the U.N. agency  decided earlier this year to ban shipments on passenger planes of lithium metal batteries, a non-rechargeable cousin to lithium-ion batteries typically used in toys, watches and medical devices. That ban goes into effect in January. About 10 percent of the 2.5 billion lithium metal batteries manufactured annually are shipped by air.

Lithium-ion batteries are far more frequently shipped by air, but there has been no similar effort to ban their transport on passenger planes despite a heightened awareness of their dangers. About 4.8 billion lithium-ion cells were manufactured in 2013, and production is forecast to reach 8 billion a year by 2025. A battery contains two or more cells.

Should you be worried if you fly? Damned straight - as much or more as if a shoe bomber was on board!

The FAA said it in statement Tuesday that it is continuing its battery testing and searching for ways to prevent fires and explosions. Huh, doh - how about not permitting them to be dispatched in bulk?

To its credit, United Airlines said in a message to its cargo clients on Monday that it will no longer accept lithium-ion batteries for shipment in cargo containers because of concern that when damaged the batteries can catch fire and produce explosive gases. The airline said it will still accept the batteries for shipment in pallets.

This is a step in the right direction and more airlines need to help out to do an end run around our useless assholes in congress and its useless laws.

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