Federal officials question safety of lithium batteries during air travel

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016
FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2006 file photo, firefighters battle a blaze onboard a UPS cargo plane at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia.
AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek, File-AP

WASHINGTON (WLS) -- As the FAA issued a safety alert about lithium batteries, other federal safety officials called for stricter rules on how they are shipped to prevent uncontrollable fires.

The Federal Aviation Administration is calling on airlines to do their own safety tests on lithium ion batteries and review whether or not they should be allowed on planes. Lithium ion batteries, which power our phones, laptops and cameras, can explode if they are handled in the wrong way, potentially causing damage to a plane in flight. The FAA is urging air carriers to investigate the risks of carrying cargo shipments in of rechargeable batteries in the bellies of passenger planes.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Chris Hart said lithium batteries should be separated from other flammable cargo, and the amount of batteries in a single cargo pallet or container should be limited. The batteries can short circuit and ignite for various reasons, including damage, defects, incorrect package or exposure to extreme temperatures.

When rechargeable lithium batteries ignite they can burn as hot as 1,100 degrees, which is the melting point of aluminum. Aluminum is the metal typically used in aircraft construction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.