Transportation of Lithium-Ion Batteries by Air Transport since April 2016. What Has Changed in Transportation Processes?

On April 1, ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) banned transportation of commercial batches with accumulators (lithium-ion batteries) in cargo compartments of passenger aircrafts. At the same time, regulations applicable for the batteries carried by cargo aircrafts became more stringent.

As a result, the number of logistic operators shipping accumulators by air and transportation directions for these types of goods have reduced sharply on the market. In fact, courier delivery companies (UPS, TNT, etc.) made online statements on their web sites declaring that they no longer accepted international cargo shipment of lithium-ion batteries.

It should be noted that this type of goods is in high demand on the market.

Our expert Yury Shidlovsky, Head of Airfreight Department of TELS Group of companies, shares his view on the best way out of the situation for all the market players.

Yury, why did ICAO apply more stringent regulations, which are actually harmful to airline operators?

The ban affecting transportation of commercial batches with accumulators (not built in equipment) in cargo compartments of passenger aircrafts is logical and clear – batteries caught fire repeatedly, which is extremely dangerous for passengers’ lives. Several factories manufacturing lithium-ion batteries in China shut down this year due to the fire that broke out there.

At the same time, transportation of such type of goods is allowed on cargo aircrafts while meeting more stringent regulations for cargo preparation and shipment.

What regulations have become more stringent?

First, this type of cargo is listed as a dangerous cargo requiring special customs declarations.

Second, the cargoes should comply with more stringent packaging and labelling requirements. According to IATA dangerous goods regulations, a packing cannot be damaged or even crumpled. It should contain a number of appropriate stickers, which should have a certain size, colour and place on the package.

Otherwise, the cargo will not be accepted for transportation.

Is it that difficult to comply with the new regulations?

Everything could be much easier if the cargo flows went from Europe. Almost all the manufacturers-exporters there know how to complete declarations and comply with the packaging and labeling requirements. However, China is the major world manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries today, which makes the delivery problematic or even impossible for many.

We do not know any manufacturers in China who could complete dangerous cargo declarations. With great effort, we have found an agent who can prepare the declarations and the cargo for further transportation with unconditional success due to his previous experience with AirBridge airlines company.

For us, the whole situation can be described by a Russian proverb, which literally states, “Weren’t if for bad luck, we would have no luck at all” (in other words, a blessing in disguise). As all the staff in Airfreight departments had been acquainted with the regulations for air transportation of dangerous cargoes before the new regulations came into force and as we found a suitable agent in China, we have actually become an exclusive company delivering lithium-ion batteries from China to the countries of the CIS. We have transported over 40 tons of accumulators from China since this April.

What does the whole process imply for the customers? What do they have to do in addition to all they did before April 1?

We have prepared a special instruction for our clients and their consignors on the preparation of cargoes. It’s made as a checklist – the consignor prepares the cargo following the instruction. Only when all the checkboxes for each step have been ticked (fulfilled), the information is sent to the client and to us and we take another step forward.

Further, our agent in China organizes transportation of the cargo from consignor’s warehouse to their warehouse in Hong Kong. The cargo undergoes thorough examination and the boxes damaged during transportation are repackaged there. Crumpled and punctured cargoes are all considered damaged. Packings should be close to perfect to be released at the airport terminal.

To reduce the expenses on repackaging, we have come to an agreement with some manufacturers on providing a number of additional boxes (folded pieces) with each batch. Thus, repackaging goes faster and cheaper. However, the agent mainly has to order boxes from their contractors.

Once the boxes have been labelled correctly, the cargo is brought to the terminal. That’s why warehousing and all the preparatory work are carried out in Hong Kong minimizing the number of events between the warehouse and the airport terminal, which in its turn reduces the chance of damaging the packing.

How does it affect the delivery price?

Repackaging of one box costs around 8 USD, labelling of one box – 0.5 USD. With 200 boxes, part of which are damaged, the sum may be considerable. But the expense is essential. The first and the only case when our cargo was turned down was when the client requested the shipping of the cargo “as it was”, without carrying out any recommended preparations (saying “transported before without any problems”).

We do not raise the shipping rates for our “exclusiveness” as we are interested in satisfying all the needs of our clients in terms of cargo shipment. As a rule, those who are importing accumulators also import various gadget accessories, so its’s profitable for us to offer attractive rates for the whole range of services.

What about the delivery time?

If everything goes as planned, it may take up to 5 days, but in general, it takes 7 days. Such period is considered to be slow for air delivery, but it’s quite fast for dangerous cargoes, which require appropriate supervision and execution.