New regulations proposed to Congress by the U.S Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) are set to take effect soon, which will limit the maximum charge of lithium-ion batteries to 30% or less when shipped as cargo on passenger flights or on cargo only planes.
While the move won’t directly impact personal devices brought onboard, it may have an impact on tech companies transporting batteries.
The Trump administration is set to approve the guidelines following a series of ten tests preformed by the FAA. In one such example, a laptop with a full charge and a can of dry shampoo resulted in an explosion within 40 seconds of an initial battery fire.
The Chicago Tribune writes,
The test showed that because of the rapid progression of the fire, Halon gas fire suppressant systems used in airline cargo compartments would be unable to put out the fire before there was an explosion, the FAA said. The explosion might not be strong enough to structurally damage the plane, but it could damage the cargo compartment and allow the Halon to escape, the agency said. Then there would be nothing to prevent the fire from spreading.
The report from Reuters, however, includes a more ambiguous guideline which makes it unclear if fully packaged products such an iPhone or Apple Watch would be federally regulated by this change.
The rules do not restrict passengers or crew members from bringing personal items or electronic devices containing lithium cells or batteries aboard aircraft, or restrict cargo planes from transporting lithium-ion cells or batteries at a state of charge exceeding 30 percent when packed with or contained in equipment or devices.
Judging by the language, it seems as if only cargo shipments of solely batteries would be impacted here, rather than say an iPhone with an integrated lithium-ion battery. Though that doesn’t explain why Apple’s recent Smart Battery Case shipped fully uncharged while many Apple Watch models have shipped with a minimal charge since launch.
According to the report, the move became further justified following the FAA identifying 13 separate instances of cargo fires directly due to li-ion batteries in the six-year period between 2010 and 2016.
In one instance, packages of lithium ion cells were found smoldering in an aircraft unit load device during unloading, suggesting the initial thermal runaway likely occurred while the shipment was on the aircraft.
Unless companies begin wireless charging devices post shipment stateside, it seems the old Steve Jobs mantra of shipping devices with at least a partial charge is out the window. In 2015, Nest’s Tony Fadell (and an original iPod design team member) spoke at a TED conference about what the late Apple founder taught him about creating great products.
One tidbit refers to how Jobs insisted designers continually place themselves in the shoes of a consumer who has never experienced an Apple product before, and how opening a new device with a dead battery leads to a poor first impression.
As an example, he talked about shipping a product with a charged battery. Only a few years ago, it was all-to-common to unwrap a new MP3 player with the glee of christmas morning, only to find out we had to wait a few hours to charge the device.
This is a piss-poor first impression for a product. Now, Apple products, he says, come with at least a partially charged battery. The act of “staying beginner” helps us see the frustrations that we otherwise resign ourselves to believing are fate.
Perhaps those days are over, or perhaps we’ll merely have to wait for our batteries to charge the same way we connect to WiFi.
Does the move disappoint you, or will it keep you at ease on your next flight? Let us know in the comments section below!