WASHINGTON — Boeing, one of the world’s two largest aircraft makers, warned its passenger airline customers on Friday that flying bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries can cause fires capable of destroying the planes.
The Federal Aviation Administration also issued a statement acknowledging that testing it has ‘‘conducted on the transport of lithium batteries has indicated that it presents a risk.’’
The guidance sent to airlines around the globe urged that they not carry the batteries as cargo ‘‘until safer methods of packaging and transport are established and implemented,’’ Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said in an e-mail.
The rechargeable batteries are used in cellphones, laptop computers, power tools, and many other electronic devices. They are also often shipped as cargo on international airline flights.
FAA tests over the past year show that when the batteries short-circuit they emit hydrogen and other gases that can build up. When the gases ignite, they cause fierce explosions and unleash fires that are very difficult to put out. The halon fire suppression systems in the cargo compartments of airliners have been shown to be ineffective against battery fires. The systems have been able to put out the initial flames from overheated batteries, but are unable to stop the batteries from continuing to overheat and reigniting.
It’s common for tens of thousands of batteries to be packed into a single shipping container. The global battery industry has been lobbying against significant restrictions on battery shipments other than minor changes to current regulations. Many electronics manufacturers also prefer to receive batteries quickly by air, rather than more slowly by ship, so that they can avoid having to keep large supplies on hand.
The International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, is trying to come up with new standards for packaging that can contain battery fires. A special working group is scheduled to meet on the matter later this month.