Air travellers unfazed by US lithium-battery ruling

The impact of US regulations limiting the number of loose lithium batteries that can be carried on planes is expected to be minimal

Three weeks after the US government introduced in-flight regulations limiting the number of loose lithium batteries that can be transported, mobile professionals have said the impact of the new rules is likely to be minimal.

Effective since 1 January, the new regulations state that passengers will not be able to pack loose lithium batteries in checked baggage.

In addition, the US Department of Transportation (DoT) stated that travellers will not be permitted to carry more than two spare batteries that contain between nine and 24 grams of equivalent lithium content, and these components must be packed in individual plastic bags or a protective travel case.

According to the DoT, the new ruling will reduce the risk of lithium battery fires. The department added that most lithium-ion mobile phone and standard notebook computer batteries are not affected by the regulations as they do not exceed an equivalent of eight grams of lithium content. The DoT, however, did not specify if the regulations only apply to US citizens or any airline passenger departing from the US.

The US appears to be the only country to officially restrict the number of lithium batteries passengers can carry onboard an aircraft.

Security expert Bruce Schneier noted in his blog, posted at the end of December, that the ruling would affect "pretty much no-one except audio/visual professionals".

However, Vince Tan, relations manager for Asia and Australia at audio-equipment manufacturer Sennheiser, told ZDNet Asia that the new regulations would not have an impact on the company's travelling staff.

Tan said in an email interview that products that use rechargeable lithium batteries are mainly shipped rather than carried onto a plane, as "it is not practical" to carry large quantities of lithium batteries onboard.

Tan explained that up to 20 wireless microphones and eight wireless monitor systems can be used in a typical concert set-up, requiring as many as 100 lithium batteries. He conceded that audio engineers currently still prefer alkaline batteries, but said this trend "would change in the near future as lithium batteries have proven to be long-lasting".

Andrew Koh, director of the consumer imaging and information division at Canon Singapore, said users of Canon cameras also would not be affected by any flight regulations restricting the quantity of lithium batteries as the company's technologies, such as Digic III image processors and low-current LCD, make cameras more efficient. "Even when restricted to two lithium batteries, photographers will still be able to shoot extensively before having to recharge the batteries," Koh said in an email interview.

Lee Lup Yuen, principal consultant at NCS and a ZDNet Asia blogger, added that many airlines are starting to offer in-flight power supply even in economy-class, so passengers can charge up their devices should they not have spare batteries with them.