WASHINGTON -- Regulators are banning shipments of lithium batteries from the cargo holds of passenger airplanes, saying shipments of the batteries used in electronic devices such as laptop computers and digital cameras are a fire hazard. The Research and Special Projects Administration's decision to ban the shipments of non-rechargeable lithium batteries followed two incidents in which they burst into flames.
In 1999, a shipment ignited after it was unloaded from a passenger jet at Los Angeles International Airport, according to Rebecca Trexler, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, which will enforce the ban.
In August, a shipment erupted into flames in Memphis when it was being loaded onto a plane bound for Paris, Trexler said.
RSPA and the FAA also conducted research that indicated the batteries posed a special fire hazard, and that the fires they caused were hard to put out even when small quantities of batteries were involved.
"We don't want any of them shipped on passenger flights," Trexler said Friday.
The ban doesn't affect passengers, Trexler said. They can still carry laptops and cell phones onto planes, even bring along a spare battery.
Fires caused by the batteries can't be doused by an aircraft's fire suppression system, Trexler said.
Burning batteries can explode and throw off molten lithium, which can penetrate the wall of the cargo hold, and they can raise air pressure levels high enough to break the panels. In both cases, the fire could spread into other parts of the aircraft.
Trexler said the FAA has become increasingly concerned about non-rechargeable lithium batteries because of the increasing demand for products that contain them. Technological advances have also made the batteries more dangerous because they can store more electricity.
The ban goes into effect on Dec. 29.