Dubai fatal plane crash leads to new UN safety recommendations

UPS plane crash in Dubai triggers international cargo reform.

DUBAI // A United Nations panel that includes a UAE representative has recommended new international standards for preventing fires on aeroplanes carrying highly flammable lithium batteries.

At the same time the UAE and the United States are testing ways to fight such fires so as to propose additional reforms.

Both initiatives arose after a UPS plane carrying lithium batteries in September 2010 caught fire soon after taking off from Dubai and crashed, killing both pilots.

"The UPS6 accident has spurred the industry to review and reassess the lithium battery risk," a spokesperson from the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said.

At a gathering last week in Montreal, Canada, the dangerous goods panel of the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommended that airlines inspect packages of lithium batteries before loading them on planes.

The group also said large shipments of lithium batteries should be labelled as dangerous goods, shippers should be trained in handling them, and pilots should be notified that they are on board.

Lithium batteries are used in mobile phones and computers.

The panel, made up of delegates from 17 countries and six international bodies, recommended that ICAO adopt these measures as worldwide best practices starting next year.

Separately, investigators from the GCAA are completing a final report on the UPS crash that will also propose new regulations.

To inform their decisions, they are studying how fires sparked by lithium batteries spread and how to best suppress them, using a fire testing centre belonging to the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration in the US.

They will also consult other civil aviation authorities, airport cargo handlers, lithium battery makers and cargo carriers.

"The data collected and analysed will be made available to all interested parties and will form the basis of proposing revised regulations for the carriage of lithium battery cargo," the GCAA spokesperson said.

In the UPS crash, a fire warning went off within 30 minutes of the plane's take-off. The pilots were invited to land in Doha but instead decided to turn back to Dubai.

By that time, smoke and fumes had entered the cockpit, and the air conditioning, oxygen and flight control systems failed, according to a preliminary report released last April.

The plane crashed in the Nad Al Sheba military camp.