The recent explosion of battery pack/power banks incident on board a China Southern Airlines’ flight CZ3539 just before she took off from the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport on 25 February 2018 has alerted the international community, including Indonesian authority, on the possible danger of bringing power banks on board an airplane. To prevent other incident in the future, the Directorate General of Air Transportation of the Ministry of Transport of Indonesia has issued Circular Letter No. SE.015 TAHUN 2018 regarding Provision on Bringing Power Banks and Spare Lithium Batteries on Board an Airplane (“Circular Letter 15/2018”).
In essence, the Circular Letter 15/2018 gave these following instructions to the airlines that operated in Indonesia:
- To ask every passengers regarding their ownership (possession) of power banks or spare lithium batteries during check in process;
- To ensure that the power banks or spare lithium batteries brought by the passengers fulfilled these following conditions:
- The power banks or spare lithium batteries does not connected with other devices;
- The power banks or spare lithium batteries must be placed in the cabin baggage, not the checked baggage;
- The power banks or spare lithium batteries with 100 Wh (watt-hour) or less of energy capacity can be brought by the passengers;
- Subject to approval from the airlines, the power banks or spare lithium batteries with more than 100 Wh, but less than 160 Wh of energy capacity can be brought by the passengers;
- The power bank or spare lithium batteries with: (i) more than 160 Wh of energy capacity; or (ii) unidentified amount of energy capacity, are prohibited to be brought by the passengers;
- If the power banks or spare lithium batteries only gives information of its electric charges capacity (in mAH unit) instead of the energy capacity (in Wh unit), the energy capacity can be calculated with this following formula:
E = Energy (Wh)
V = Voltage (V)
I = Electric Charges (Ah)
- To be responsible to store the passengers’ power banks that does not comply with the conditions mentioned above;
- To prohibit passengers and crews to recharge their devices with power banks during the flight.
In addition to the above, the Circular Letter 15/2018 also instructed Airport Operators, Airport Business Entity and Special Airport Operators to issue a Standard Operating Procedure to follow up the provision of Circular Letter 15/2018.
Upon the issuance of Circular Letter 15/2018, although several mainstream media has issued headlines on the details of the power banks restriction and explained that the power banks are not fully restricted to be brought on board an airplane, some Indonesian people still have not got a clear idea on the provision contained therewith, and in doubt on whether they are permitted to bring their power banks when they are travelling by plane as if such restriction is too extreme and should not be imposed in a short notice.
However, is such restriction really too extreme? Is such restriction only imposed in Indonesia?
Long before the issuance of Circular Letter 15/2018, the International Civil Aviation Organization (“ICAO”) and the International Air Transport Association (“IATA”) has sensed the dangers of bringing spare lithium battery to the airplane, and respectively has addressed the issues in the ICAO’s Technical Instruction for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air and the IATA’s Dangerous Goods Regulations (“DGR”).
At least on 2013, the restriction of spare lithium batteries that can be brought on board an airplane has been regulated in the DGR. Further, the 57th Edition of DGR, which has become effective on 1 January 2016, has make a specific reference to power banks as portable electronic devices and treated power banks as spare lithium batteries and are limited to be brought by carry-on (cabin) baggage only. The DGR regulated that the power banks are to be classified as batteries and must be assigned to UN 3480 (lithium ion batteries) or UN 3090 (lithium metal batteries), as applicable.
Previously, the DGR has also stipulated a mirroring provision with the Circular Letter 15/2018 regarding conditions for spare lithium batteries that can be brought on board an airplane as mentioned above.
Considering the above, it is clear that the restriction to bring spare lithium batteries, including power banks, on board an airplane is not something new and has been long regulated internationally to ensure flight safety. On the contrary, the real question should be why there are a lot of airlines, both Indonesian and foreign, who did not check and restrict power banks in accordance with the provision of DGR?
It is regrettable that the airlines and authorities only give attention to such issues when an incident has already happened. Luckily, the incident in China Southern Airlines’ flight CZ3539 happened before the plane took off (not during a flight where it may be difficult to conduct mitigation action) and that there is no casualty due to such incident.
Airplane passengers should not get panicked due to the issuance of Circular Letter 15/2018. In fact, the restriction to bring power bank (lithium ion batteries/lithium metal batteries) on board an airplane has actually been addressed internationally since few years ago by IATA to avoid any incident to the passengers itself. By comparison, China has issued similar regulation regarding power banks on 2014, while the United States of America has addressed such issues in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Further, it must be noted that power banks with above 100 Wh of energy or more, which equivalent to more than 27,000 mAH (with common voltage of 3.6 V), is rare to be used and carried in portable way. The common power banks that usually used by people are power banks with electric charges capacity around 5,000 mAH – 20,000 mAH.
All in all, instead of protesting the content of Circular Letter 15/2018, it would be more appropriate if the public would regard the circular letter as a positive measure by the government to prevent bigger incident in the future.
In this regard, all airlines, both Indonesian and foreign, must do their best to properly enforce the applicable laws to ensure flight safety, in this case by conducting proper and thorough checking on their passenger’s luggage. Conversely, airplane passengers should also being proactive in checking their own luggage, especially if they are bringing goods that can be considered hazardous or dangerous such as power banks, rechargeable/non-rechargeable battery, matches or electronic cigarette/vaping device, prior to boarding the airplane, instead of just relying to the airport authority or airlines staff to conduct such checking.
 IATA, “Significant Changes And Amendments to the 57th edition (2016)”, http://icc.pub/downloads/significant-changes/iata/2016-iata-significant-changes-en.pdf
 IATA, “IATA’s Lithium Battery Guidance Document”, https://www.iata.org/whatwedo/cargo/dgr/Documents/lithium-battery-guidance-document-2017-en.pdf
 Beijing Capital International Airport, “Air Travel: Power Banks without Clear Product Identification are Prohibited”, http://en.bcia.com.cn/news/news/141223/news1070.shtml
 Federal Aviation Administration, “Pack Safe, Lithium ion and lithium metal batteries, spare (uninstalled)”, https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/hazmat_safety/more_info/?hazmat=7