Cathay Pacific Cargo has added another size of FAA-approved fire containment bag (FCB) for carriage of lithium-ion batteries aboard its freighters, after resuming battery acceptance from 1 May and is the first carrier in the world to introduce ‘blockchain management’ in its Unit Load Devices (ULDs).
As first reported by AsiaCargoBuzz.com in late April, Cathay Pacific resumed carriage of lithium-ion batteries (UN3480 PI965 Section 1A and 1B) on its freighter aircraft from 1 May with a single FCB product, saying at the time: “More solutions are under development that will cater to lithium battery shipments of various sizes.”
The fire containment bags now in use by Cathay, come in two sizes, for shipments up to 30kg and another for up to 50kg per bag. The 30kg bag, for example, is able to hold 500-600 batteries of the type used in smartphones. These FCBs are available at all of Cathay Pacific Cargo’s 46 freighter destinations.
Cargo Products manager Alex Leung says: “These new fire containment bags have been thoroughly tested and meet our stringent safety requirements, and they have also been approved by the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).
“In the event of a battery combusting, the bags limit the fire’s supply of oxygen, while letting smoke escape to trigger the aircraft’s smoke detectors.”
With this approved safety product, Cathay Pacific Cargo has been able to lift its embargo on shipping lithium-ion batteries in its freighters. The embargo affected standalone shipments of batteries, but not those inside electronic consumer goods such as laptops, smartphones and tablets.
However, the embargo on battery shipments on Cathay Pacific’s passenger aircraft remains in force. Head of Cargo Market and Products John Cheng explains: “We follow the IATA rule that states that lithium batteries cannot be shipped in cargo on passenger aircraft.”
In addition, the new FCBs are not certified to carry non-rechargeable lithium metal batteries, which have a different internal chemistry and behave in a different way. Shippers will also need to complete forms outlining their particular type of batteries with Cathay Pacific Cargo’s local sales teams, the carrier notes.
Cheng notes that once the shipper forwards the required information, the turnaround for approval takes three working days and is valid for one year for the same type of battery.
“This new fire containment product enables us to serve this growing market,” adds Leung. “We are continually looking at new solutions that will cater for bigger battery sizes and bigger quantities, such as those used in the electric car industry.”
Blockchain for ULDs
Meanwhile, following a successful trial last year, Cathay is now introducing a ‘blockchain management’ system that will make locating, allocating and transferring load devices between forwarders, the airline and other concerned parties transparent to all users and ultimately paper-free.
The first stage of the project started in early July and once implemented, custody change of ULDs within or outside the airport will be recorded in the paper-free blockchain system.
It will primarily focus on ULD transactions in Hong Kong and selected ports in the US, with plans to implement the system across the whole network in the near future.
With the existing manual process, it is extremely easy for all parties to lose track of ULDs in their inventory. Cathay Pacific’s blockchain-enabled system serves as a ‘single source of truth’ for the sake of providing the standard data and increasing visibility across the network for all concerned parties.
The system will have the capability to replace paper receipts, while a specially-designed mobile app that makes use of blockchain’s smart contract will facilitate the transfer of ULDs in real time. Once all ULDs become smart with sensors installed, it can become a total paperless solution.
The project was initiated by Cathay Pacific e-Cargo and Digital Enablement manager Calvin Hui, who presented his findings at the IATA Aviation Data Symposium in Athens, Greece.
He says: “Using blockchain to establish a trustworthy ULD database across the network will not only assist with ULD management, but also improve the service quality and experience for our customers.
“The most obvious benefit we expect to see is having sufficient ULD stocks for our customers during peak cargo periods, because we will know where exactly to find our ULDs.”