New FAA battery rules affect video crews

On Jan. 1, new rules went into effect that prohibit U.S. air passengers from carrying spare lithium batteries in their checked baggage.

The new rules, announced just before the holiday by the U.S. Department of Transportation, are said to reduce the risk of fires in aircraft.

Passengers will still be able to carry lithium batteries in checked bags if they are installed in a device. But loose batteries will need to be put in a plastic bag and carried on the plane as hand luggage.

The rules limit each passenger to two extended-life lithium batteries. These are larger batteries with more than 8g of equivalent lithium content. The rules are also described at the Web site.

Anthony Burokas, writing on the TechThoughts blog, noted that new regulations could have far-reaching consequences for professional camera operators who want to travel with spares when they fly.

“You may not pack a spare lithium battery in your checked baggage,” Burokas noted. “You can also bring up to two spare batteries with an aggregate [add up to] equivalent lithium content from 8 up to 25 grams.”

“The limits are expressed in grams of ‘equivalent lithium content.’ Eight grams of equivalent lithium content is approximately 100 watt-hours. 25 grams is approximately 300 watt-hours. [What this means is that] they may take your $500 160 WH battery and keep it,” Burokas wrote.

In February 2006, a United Parcel Service flight landed at Philadelphia International Airport after the crew detected a fire in its cargo. The National Transportation Safety Board said later that it found several burned out laptop batteries on the plane, and could not rule them out as a possible cause of the fire.

Lithium batteries are a fire hazard because of the heat they can generate when they are damaged or suffer a short circuit, the National Transportation Safety Board said at a hearing about the Philadelphia incident last July.