With much publicity on lithium batteries catching fire, it's no surprise that there are a lot of airline restrictions on the carriage of such batteries on board. But why are they structured in the way that they are structured? This article seeks to explain some of the rules.
1. Watt-Hour Rating.
Watt-hour (WH) is a measure of the amount of energy stored in the battery. When a battery catches fire, this energy is released. So the higher the WH rating, the more energy the battery can store, and therefore the bigger a fire it can cause.
This is why restrictions on batteries are first segregated by its WH rating. In general, if your electric wheelchair contains a removable lithium battery of 160WH or less, you won't have much problems bringing it on board. But anything above 160WH, you will have to write in to the airline in advance to get approval.
2. Check in vs Hand-Carry
If your batteries are removable, you will have to take the batteries in your hand-carry bag, and not in your check-in luggage. Only non-removable batteries below 100WH are allowed to be checked-in.
Now, imagine if a battery starts to catch fire. If it happens in the passenger cabin, the sound and smoke will be detected by the crew almost immediately, and they can take swift action to put out the fire.
But what would happen if the fire took place in the cargo compartment? By the time the fire is detected, and people actually get down to the cargo area to fight the fire, it may be too late.
3. Taping up of Battery Terminals
It is also advised that you tape up the battery terminals or keep it in its original retail packaging to prevent accidental short-circuit.
Short circuits are one of the main reasons why lithium batteries catch fire. A short circuit happens when the positive and negative terminals of a battery are connected, without a load (such as a motor) in between. This leads to high-temperature sparks which could set the battery on fire.
Without insulating the terminals, they may accidentally come into contact with metal objects in your bag, such as coins, pens or other things made of conductive material.
So those guidelines do exist for a reason. For the safety of yourself and others, please follow!
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