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Transportation of Acousonde™ batteries

Updated 9 August 2010

A single small primary lithium cell powers the Acousonde™. Because lithium is a hazardous material, government regulations affect how these batteries may be transported. Within the United States, transportation of small lithium cells is governed by Department of Transportation (DOT) Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 49, Parts 171, 172, 173, and 175. This FAQ summarizes United States regulations only as they apply to the battery used in the Acousonde.

Regulations change from time to time and are subject to legal interpretation, so we can make no representation that this FAQ is complete or correct. For example, in early 2010, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), part of the DOT, proposed sweeping changes to regulations on air transport of lithium batteries. These regulations would profoundly affect air transportation of batteries for virtually all electronic instrumentation, including the Acousonde. As of 31 July 2010 these changes were still under review, neither implemented nor abandoned; please see this Washington Post article.

The battery currently recommended for the Acousonde is the Saft LS17500 A-size 3.6V small primary lithium cell.

Can I send the Acousonde's batteries on passenger aircraft?
When shipping batteries using passenger aircraft you may only ship one battery per Acousonde that is being transported at the same time, up to a maximum of 24 battery cells (and 24 associated Acousondes). The cells must be transported either in or packaged with the Acousonde. If not contained within the Acousonde(s), the cells must be separated or packaged in a manner to prevent short circuits and with strong outer packaging (US DOT CFR Title 49, Part 172.102, Special Provision 188).
What if I am personally traveling with the batteries?
You may travel with spare batteries, including lithium batteries, for personal use of portable electronics, provided each spare battery is "individually protected so as to prevent short circuits (by placement in original retail packaging or by otherwise insulating terminals, e.g., by taping over exposed terminals or placing each battery in a separate plastic bag or protective pouch) and carried in carry-on baggage only" (US DOT CFR Title 49, Part 175.10).

To emphasize the last requirement: you may not pack spare lithium cells or batteries, of any kind, of any size, or for any purpose, in checked luggage.

By allowing spare cells in carry-on baggage, Part 175.10 appears to offer a limited exemption to the one-cell-per-device rule called out in Special Provision 188. As of 22 July 2010, the DOT's safetravel.dot.gov website confirms that "for personal use, there is generally no restriction on the number of spare batteries allowed in carry-on baggage."

Are lithium cells OK in checked luggage if packed properly?
We don't recommend it. You may pack one cell per Acousonde in checked luggage, as long as such cells are "in or packaged with" each associated Acousonde, and that this is done in a manner to prevent short circuits and with strong outer packaging (US DOT CFR Title 49, Part 172.102, Special Provision 188). Guidelines at safetravel.dot.gov are even more restrictive: they only allow a lithium battery to be checked if it is inside its associated device. Regardless, we can't recommend you check the Acousonde any more than you would check a laptop computer; and since you cannot legally check any number of lithium batteries without also checking an equal number of Acousondes, we urge that you simply do not pack any lithium batteries or Acousondes in your checked luggage.
When packed with a cell inside, is the Acousonde secure against activation?
Guidelines at safetravel.dot.gov require you to secure a checked device containing batteries against activation. The only way to accomplish this with the Acousonde is to place an insulating material, such as electrical tape, over at least one of the battery contacts before inserting it in the Acousonde's battery compartment. We strongly recommend this approach when transporting the Acousonde.

If the battery is inserted but not isolated in this way, there is no way to turn the Acousonde completely "off"; it is always drawing some power from its battery. As long as the Acousonde has not been explicitly programmed to record, its standby power consumption is only about 3 mW. The Acousonde will only leave standby upon receiving a complex infrared command transmission that cannot occur by accident as long as the Acousonde is packaged optically separate from the Palm commanding unit. So, we believe that an undamaged Acousonde's standby state may be still considered "off" for the purposes of DOT guidelines.

Can I ship the Acousonde's batteries by non-passenger cargo aircraft?
Saft certifies the LS17500 as "non-restricted to transport," "non-assigned to Class 9," and "exempt from the [United Nations] Dangerous Goods regulations." Outside the United States, this certification typically allows transportation by cargo aircraft. Within the United States it is not clear that government regulations prohibit transportation by cargo aircraft; however, a prohibition may be established late in 2010 (see this Washington Post article of 31 July 2010) Cargo handlers may also have their own restrictions beyond those of the government. Some air-cargo companies use passenger aircraft, in which case all passenger-aircraft transportation regulations apply. Please contact your cargo representative.