LiPo batteries (Lithium Polymer) are delicate. In fact, they can be downright dangerous when handled incorrectly, as they can combust when they’re overcharged, short-circuited, and sometimes even if you just look at them a little funny. This makes them a nightmare when it comes to shipping via aircraft. That’s why the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has just announced updated regulations with regards to shipping LiPo batteries.
Checked Baggage vs. Hand Luggage
For stunning aerial shots, a helicopter is no longer a necessity. It is now possible (simple even!) to achieve stunning aerial shots with a drone. It also tends to be a whole lot cheaper. So, there are a lot of advantages to shooting with drones—unfortunately, the commonly used LiPo batteries are not included in that list. Next time you’re planning on packing your drone, along with loads of spare LiPo batteries, and jetting off to a beautiful Caribbean beach for a commercial shot, think twice; you may just end up stuck at the airport!
The IATA have had several rules and regulations in place for a while when it comes to sending Lithium batteries skywards (including Li-Ion and LiPo batteries):
- Spare batteries up to 100 Wh (watt hours): hand luggage only, max weight of allowed hand luggage
- Spare batteries from 100 Wh up to 160Wh (max): hand luggage only, max 2 batteries per passenger
Those regulations apply only to personal use. But what is personal use? Well, that’s up to the airline. Whatever their decision, though, transporting each battery in a sealed plastic bag (or dedicated fireproof bag, for LiPo batteries) and having the exposed terminals covered with duct tape is mandatory.
Both, Li-Ion and LiPo batteries are prohibited in checked baggage and are not allowed to exceed 160Wh. Lithium metal batteries are not allowed at all. These require special precautionary measures.
New Regulations, Increasing Prices of LiPo Batteries
The new regulations will become effective by April 1st, 2016 and look to tighten the current rules quite significantly—across a much broader spectrum:
- All international shipments of lithium batteries are prohibited as cargo on passenger aircraft.
This doesn’t apply to batteries in, or as part of, items of equipment. It applies to individual batteries. In other words, it will affect the way that you order spare batteries from your chosen retailer. From here on in, it is prohibited to send these batteries without following a strict procedure (which involves a lot of labelling, and a lot tighter control on how the batteries are packaged).
Currently, a lot of retailers just pack a battery in a sleeve and ship it. Those parcels will then be handled like any other, being transported by a passenger plane headed towards the desired destination. The new regulations will put an end to this, and it’s reasonable to conclude that the cost of Lithium batteries will increase as a result. After all, shipping by cargo aircraft isn’t cheap—and there’ll be a lot more to the process, too.
For reference, check out these UPS international lithium battery regulations.
In my mind, these new regulations bring a positive change. These batteries can be fairly dangerous, and knowing that there are no potentially explosive goods below my feet while I am a few thousand feet over the Atlantic Ocean will put my mind at ease! On the other hand, these regulations will cause a slight headache when preparing to shoot abroad; I guess that, as filmmakers, we’ll just have to be prepared so we don’t end up delayed!
Do remember that individual airlines have their own rules. Some follow the IATA regulations to the letter while others handle things their own way (ie. more strictly). It is always a good idea to call your airline before your departure, rather than rushing to the airport unprepared and five minutes late… again.
Related links: IATA 2016 regulation PDF