How to Transport Lithium-ion batteries or lithium metal batteries as cargo on aircraft in 2022 and beyond?


Lithium batteries are part of our everyday lives, and we can’t understate their importance. However, these power sources made of ultra-light materials are not easily transported, for their volatile nature isn’t only dangerous to the environment but can also injure people. 

In light of this need, Transport Canada banned all lithium batteries – both lithium-ion and lithium-metal – from being transported in passenger aircrafts The authority later enacted more regulations about transporting those products on cargo aircrafts. While the recommendations are straightforward, a lack of awareness still exists about the nature of lithium batteries.

Therefore, this guide explains the risks associated with the transportation of lithium batteries, the government regulations to tackle them, and what measures companies can take to transport lithium-ion or lithium metal batteries as cargo on aircraft in 2022.

What are the Risks involved with Transporting Lithium Batteries?

In 2016, four lithium batteries packed in a cardboard box were transported from Florida to Indianapolis via aircraft. The package then went to its final destination, Toronto. Within 10 hours of leaving the airport tarmac, the box caught fire, refocusing the attention on the risk carried by the lithium batteries.

Lithium batteries contain a separator to prevent the contact of critical components. During transportation, because the lithium batteries are exposed to many environmental issues such as extreme temperatures, high humidity and low pressures, this partition can be damaged, causing the battery to heat up quickly. It causes a reaction with the flammable electrolyte, leading to a thermal runaway and an explosion. 

Therefore, the United Nations has classified lithium batteries – both lithium-ion and lithium metal – as Class 9 Dangerous Goods. It means that the shipper is responsible for safely handling the lithium batteries. 

Transport Canada has further listed the risks of shipping lithium batteries and the items that contain them. 

    1. Fire Suppressions Systems may not help deal with all types of fires. Transport Canada states that most lithium batteries are safe. However, some that overheat cause a chemical reaction so intense that the standard fire suppression system implemented in the aircraft may not be enough to extinguish battery fires. 
    2. Counterfeit and no Brand batteries: Counterfeit batteries or batteries with no brand names don’t go through prior testing for safety standards. If they are poorly designed, contain little protection, or have manufacturing flaws, they can threaten other products in proximity. 


What are the regulations for shipping Lithium Ion and Lithium Metal batteries?

The office of Flight Technical and Operator Certification issued CASA – Civil Aviation Safety Alerts (CASA) in April 2016, highlighting the recommended actions that operators must take if they wish to transport lithium batteries on cargo planes must review the following:

  1. The packaging must meet all the TDG (Transport of Dangerous Goods) Regulations.
  2. The density of the packages of lithium batteries must be checked.
  3. The personnel handling the transportation of lithium batteries must receive proper training when it comes to loading, unloading, and assessing the products.
  4. The frequency, type, and quantity of lithium transported must be considered. 
  5. Assess the fire protection features of the existing aircraft.
  6. Revisit the lithium battery acceptance requirement within the cargo compartment of the (cargo) aircraft.
  7. Assess the chemical composition of batteries.
  8. The storage location of the lithium batteries relative to the other dangerous goods or other lithium batteries.
  9. The process of notifying the flight crew of the location of the batteries.
  10. The crew’s ability to deal with any in-flight lithium battery fire. 

Transportation is a factor that rests on the shoulders of airline operators. However, the onus of properly packaging the products rests on the manufacturing companies. 


Points companies must remember before shipping out the Lithium Batteries

Before sending the product, companies must take care of the following regulatory requirements

  • The batteries must have cleared the UN tests: If the battery has not passed the test, then the regulations consider it a counterfeit. 
  • Prevention of short circuits: The company has to ensure that a battery’s terminals are properly protected to prevent short circuits.
  • Inner and outer packaging:  The company should use proper inner and outer packaging materials. 
  • The batteries should have less than half the power:  The new security instructions set by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) state that the lithium-ion batteries must not be more than 30% charged before transportation. 
  • The packages should have the correct marks and labels:  The packages of the batteries must contain all the labels that clearly define them as dangerous goods. 
  • All the documentation requirements must be met: The company must provide all the necessary documentation required for the transportation of the packages. 

Label Requirements of the product

The labels on the lithium battery packages should contain all the relevant information such as UN number, proper shipping names, manufacturing date, and other details. Companies must also take care that these labels:

  1. Are properly applied to the packages
  2. Are written in a proper and legible format
  3. Can withstand the elements
  4. Can be read properly by the customer and the regulatory bodies
  5. Have the proper size
  6. Are written in English or other languages as required by the law of the land

Documents required

The shippers must take care of the following documentation requirements before sending out the lithium batteries:

  1. Details of the shipper
  2. Details of the consignee
  3. Bill number
  4. Limitations of the aircraft when it comes to fire safety
  5. Type of shipping
  6. Number of lithium batteries
  7. The packing instructions applied 
  8. Authorizations
  9. Other handing information


The bottom line is: when it comes to the safety of the package, it falls on you – the company – to ensure that the battery is packaged properly, contains charge as per the regulatory requirements and has the right documentation and labels to go along with. The rest of the matter falls on the shoulders of shippers in Canada. They must take care of the safety standards and ensure that product is stored properly and the onboard flight crew has proper training to deal with any mishap. 

Interested in knowing what it takes to handle hazardous goods and materials? Reach out to Global HazMat. We provide specialized training for the transportation of dangerous goods. During our lessons, we cover everything from training and certification to the special requirements. We also deliver consulting and regulatory and management services so that your organization is always up to date when it comes to safety standards. For any further queries, feel free to reach out to us.