Lithium rules fail to spark worries

Industry watchers say mobile users will not be hampered by new U.S. flight regulations on lithium batteries, which came into effect Jan. 1 this year.

Three weeks after the U.S. government introduced in-flight regulations restricting the number of loose lithium batteries, mobile warriors say the impact of the new rules is likely to be minimal.

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

In addition, the U.S. Department of Transport (DOT) stated that travelers will not be permitted to carry more than two spare batteries that contain between 9 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 is to will reduce the risk of lithium battery fires. The department added that most lithium-ion cell phone and standard notebook computer batteries are not affected by the regulations as they do not exceed an equivalent of 8 grams of lithium content. The DOT, however, did not specify if the regulations only apply to U.S. citizens, or any airline passenger departing from the United States.

The United States 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, at the posted in end-December, that the ruling would affect "pretty much no one except audio/visual professionals".

But 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 traveling staff.

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

He 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 pieces of 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 consumer imaging and information division of 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 e-mail interview. He added that some models including the Canon PowerShot series are able to operate on alkaline batteries, allowing frequent travelers or those venturing to more isolated areas unlimited versatility "to operate anywhere in the world where consistent power supply may not be available".

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.