Fiery risk? Tests raise concern that batteries shipped on airliners could catch fire, explode

Dramatic government tests results are raising concern that bulk shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries carried in passenger airplanes are susceptible to fires or explosions that could destroy the airliners.

A loophole in battery shipment regulations permits shippers to pack many small boxes containing thousands of rechargeable batteries into a single cargo pallet or container.

In one Federal Aviation Administration test, a cartridge heater was added to a container with 5,000 batteries to simulate a single battery experiencing uncontrolled overheating. As the overheating spread, flammable gases caused an explosion that blew the container door open and sent boxes flying. The container was in flames within seconds.

A second test in September produced similar results.