BU-704a: Shipping Lithium-based Batteries by Air

Get familiar with the dangerous goods regulation and advise others 

Lithium batteries are dangerous goods and transporting them is only permitted with UN 38.3 certification according to the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) assists by publishing the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) that helps classify, mark, pack, label and document dangerous shipments. DGR is recognized by all major airlines.

Lithium-based batteries are divided into Li-ion found in mobile phones and laptops, and the more restrictive lithium-metal used in sensing devices as well as some consumer grade AA, AAA and 9V formats.   IATA
IATA supports 265 airlines in 117 countries carrying 83% of air traffic

Airlines allow both types as carry-on, either installed or carried as spare packs, as long as they don’t exceed the following lithium limitation:

The lithium content in the battery governs the energy storage capacity (runtime) measured in watt-hours (Wh). The Wh measurement is used to limit the quantity a passenger can bring onboard an aircraft, what can be transported outside of the Class 9 dangerous goods designation, and what mandates Class 9. To calculate the lithium content, multiply the rated capacity (Ah) times 0.3. For example, a 1Ah cell has 0.3 grams of lithium. To derive Wh, multiply Ah by the cell voltage of 3.6V. A typical laptop battery of 14.4V and 5Ah has 72Wh. (Lithium content: 5Ah x 0.3g = 1.5g x 4 cells in series = 6g).

IATA differentiates between batteries contained in the equipment (non-removable) and batteries that are packaged separately. If contained, such as in watches, smartphones or laptops, the Wh limit is ignored if less than 100Wh. However, if the battery is packaged with the equipment and is interchangeable, such as a removable pack of a power tools, then the battery must be counted. Figures 1a and 1b illustrate examples of “contained in equipment” and “packaged with equipment.”

contained in equipment

Figure 1a: “Contained in equipment.”
Battery is fitted or joined to the actual device.
Example: Watch, laptop, calculator
  Packed with equipment

Figure 1b: “Packed with equipment.”
Battery is not fitted or joined to the device.
Example: Power tool with spare pack

Since 2016, lithium batteries can no longer be carried in passenger aircraft as cargo. Under DGR, the packaging instructions (PI) are organized into PI 965 to PI 970. PI 965 covers Li-ion cells and battery packs only, while PI 966 includes Li-ion installed in equipment, and PI 967 combines Li-ion with equipment. Because of higher lithium content, lithium-metal batteries are handled separately under PI 968 to 970. (Most lithium-metal are non-rechargeable.)

Transporting lithium batteries is divided into two categories:

  1. Non-Class 9 hazardous material shipment. It involves small batteries in limited quantities. This also applies for courier and mail deliveries. Always attach CAUTION labelling.
  2. Class 9 hazardous material. This enables shipment of larger battery sizes and higher volumes.

Safety laws apply the strictest requirements first to assure that the conditions can be met. To make the guidelines more palpable for the general public, the tables below list the less stringent conditions first, followed by larger battery quantifies. This puts the established numbering system in reverse sequence. Note that Sections IA, IB and II are in Roman numerals.

Packaging Instruction 965 — includes loose Li-ion cells and battery packs (UN 3480)

Table 2 divides the transport of Li-ion products into four groups: Carry-on defines the quantity of Li-ion cells and battery packs a passenger can take on an aircraft; Section II specifies shipment of small Li-ion products in low numbers; Section 1B advises on the shipment of small Li-ion products in larger numbers, and Section 1A governs larger Li-ion products. Only Carry-on and Section II are exempt from Class 9 hazardous material designation. IATA mandates that cells and battery packs cannot be combined in the same shipping box. Use separate boxes.


Table 2: Packaging Instruction 965 covering Sections II, IB and IA. Shipment of loose Li-ion cells and battery packs.

1 Effective April 2016
Passenger Aircraft Ban: Under Sections II, IA and IB, Li-ion is forbidden on passenger aircraft as cargo. All packages must bear the “Cargo Aircraft Only” label in addition to other required marks and labels. This limitation does not affect lithium-ion batteries packed with or contained in equipment.

State-of-charge Limits: Li-ion must be shipped at a state-of-charge of no more than 30% of the rated capacity. This does not apply to batteries packed with or contained in equipment.

Other Restrictions: Shipper can only offer one Section II package (batteries only) per consignment.
Lithium battery shipments must be separated from other cargo.
2 Typical smartphone or tablet battery; 3 Typical laptop battery

All Li-ion shipment must include the CAUTION labels as shown in Figure 3a to indicate the presence of lithium batteries. Since lithium batteries are only allowed in cargo aircraft, also attach the “Cargo Aircraft Only” label illustrated in Figure 3b. Batteries shipped Class 9 in Section IA and IB must include the Class 9 label as per Figure 3c.  The package must also accompany shipping documents with name and address of consignor, date, phone number and description of shipment, including the UN number and weight.


All lithium batteries shipped under PI 965 in Sections II, IA and IB must have a state-of-charge (SoC) of 30 percent. Li-ion is more stable at low SoC than when fully charged. (An analogy is a boiler that is safer at low pressure than when the gauge touches the red line.) An open circuit voltage of 3.70V when rested indicates that the Li-ion cell is roughly at a 30 percent SoC. Discharge Li-ion to 3.65V/cell at moderate current. The 50mV overshoot compensates for the rubber band effect as the battery recovers to 3.70V/cell in time. (See BU-702: How to Store Batteries.)

Li-ion voltages vary according to chemistry and the shipper must be familiar with the type in question to assure correct charge levels. Cadex battery analyzers offer the AirShip mode to prepare Li-ion for air shipment. The SoC limit does not apply to Li-ion that are packed with or installed in products.


General Transport Requirements

Travel: Placing batteries in checked luggage is not permitted. Passengers must carry the allotted batteries onboard the aircraft. Non-removable batteries are exempt (out of sight, out of mind).
Safeguard: Batteries must be protected against short circuit. Place them in individual plastic bags.
Approval: All Li-ion batteries shipped under Class 9 hazardous material must meet the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, subsection 38.3. A battery pack must be reapproved if the cells are changed. This applies also if the replacement cells have already been approved. The approval is on the entire pack.
Prototype: Shipping prototype batteries for testing are exempt. Refer to CFR 49 173.185 (e) regarding shipping of non-UN tested batteries.
Damage: Batteries identified as defective and in danger of failing in transport are forbidden.
Old batteries: Lithium-based batteries for disposal are forbidden from air transport unless approved by the appropriate authorities.
Packing: Each shipping package must withstand a 1.2 meter (4 feet) drop in any orientation without damaging the batteries, causing them to shift or releasing the contents.
Overpack: Under the new rule effective April 2016, the overpack cannot contain more than one (1) package in accordance with Section II of PI 965. The overpack can, however, contain other non-dangerous goods or compatible dangerous good items. Add the overpack label (Figure 4) on the shipping box together with the other required labels with respect to multiple packages of regulated batteries.
Figure 4 Overpack label 101mm x 74mm (4.0x2.94”) Other dimensions may apply
Training: Personnel handling lithium-based batteries for transport must be trained. Please see http://www.iata.org/training/courses/Pages/shipping-lithium-batteries-tcgp52.aspx.


Packaging Instructions 966 and 967 (UN 3481)

PI 966 governs Li-ion cells and battery packs with equipment under UN 3481, and PI 967 oversees Li-ion cells and battery packs in equipment under UN3481 (Table 5). These rules are similar to PI 965 with the exception that Li-ion cells and battery packs can be shipped with, or in the equipment. Equipment means an apparatus requiring Li-ion products to operate.


Table 5: Packaging Instruction 966 and 967. Shipment of Li-ion batteries with, and in equipment.

Additional Requirements

Limitation:  The maximum number of batteries in each package must be limited to those required to operate the equipment. Extras must be shipped separately or in an overpack.

Activation:  Equipment must be turned OFF. Accidental activation in transport must be prevented.  Devices such as watches and temperature loggers that do not pose a danger in transport may be left in the ON position.

Author’s Note: There is a perceived irregularity that Li-ion under PI 966 and PI 967 are not subject to 30% SoC


Packaging Instruction 968 — permits lithium-metal cells and battery packs (UN3090)

Lithium-metal batteries have tighter shipping requirements than lithium ion batteries. Most Li-metal is non-rechargeable, and it is used in watches, medical instruments, pacemakers, sensors, memory retention, etc. There are also consumer-grade lithium-metal in AAA, AA, 9V and other formats. Table 6 lists the restrictions in the shipment of these batteries.


Table 6: Packaging Instruction 968. Shipment of lithium-metal cells and battery packs.

Packaging Instruction 969 and 970 (UN 3091)

PI 969 includes lithium-metal with the equipment under UN 3091, while PI 970 rules include lithium-metal in the equipment, also under UN 3091 (Table 7).


Table 7: Packaging Instruction 969 and 970. Shipment of lithium-metal with and in equipment.

Shipping Prototype Batteries

Shipping prototype batteries, including annual production runs of no more than 100 cells, or batteries for testing, are exempt when adhering to shipping regulations CFR 49 173.185 (e). Shipping non-UN tested batteries is described in: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/49/173.185

It is FORBIDDEN to ship damaged, defective, recalled or recycled lithium batteries by aircraft. This ban applies for loose cells or batteries, and those contained in equipment.



While every effort was made to ensure that the information contained in this publication is accurate, the publisher of Battery University does not warrant or guarantee accuracy and completeness; nor does the publisher take responsibility for errors, omissions or damages that may arise from this information. These guidelines are for informative purposes only. Refer to International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations when shipping lithium metal or lithium ion batteries or cells: (more info)


Last updated 2018-04-26

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Comments (5)

On August 30, 2016 at 9:13am

I am working with Phoenix Logistics in Monterrey,NL MEXICO. We are working in a project with PANASONIC, in order to bring Lithium batteries from CA to Mexico.
Unfortanly I can not find information about using INTERMODAL SERVICE for this product.
I do appreciate your help, where I can check this?

On September 28, 2016 at 3:36am
Henning Herbst wrote:

What is the status with regards to the transport / passenger use for the Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo 4) batteries as these have apparently been safety tested and are being marketed / promoted as safer than the Lithium ion batteries.

Thank you for a wonderful and very informative website.


Henning Herbst - South Africa

On January 19, 2017 at 5:33am
Ivo wrote:

i see the old dg 9 logo’s here.
IATA has new symbols as per 01-01-2017
Also new regulations i believe…...

On June 18, 2017 at 5:30am
rob pak wrote:

don’;t understand why SOC is implemented only on batteries only shipments,and not implemented on all kind of batteries shimpment

On April 5, 2018 at 6:53am
Jordan Blake wrote:

Does the process of making large, car sized, lithium batteries, leave a huge carbon foot print in the environment?