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Experts: Shipping Lithium Ion Batteries in Bulk as Cargo on Planes Is Unsafe

NTSB Calls for Stronger Lithium Battery Regulations Over Fire Risk 2:07

Federal transportation regulators and the country's main pilot union are all warning against shipping large quantities of lithium ion batteries as cargo.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday said it's time to ban bulk battery shipments on all passenger planes. The Federal Aviation Administration put out a safety alert last month warning carriers that when transported as cargo the batteries pose "potential risk for a catastrophic hull loss."

While most U.S. airlines already ban bulk shipments of batteries, nearly every cell phone, laptop, tablet and gaming device on a plane comes with lithium batteries that can overheat.

"We're seeing regular events world-wide where lithium batteries are over-heating, causing on-board fires and that causes me concern," Capt. John Cox, an aviation analyst told NBC News.

Already small fires have forced several passenger planes to make emergency landings. A top pilots union is calling for tough new international standards.

Related: FAA Backs Ban on Shipping Lithium Batteries on Commercial Airlines

After the House of Representatives introduced its FAA reauthorization bill last week, the Air Line Pilots Association quickly voiced opposition to several aspects of the draft legislation, including what the organization said it sees as the failure to properly and appropriately regulate the transportation and packaging of lithium batteries by air.

Could Lithium Ion Batteries Pose Fire Risk on Passenger Planes? 1:31

In one FAA test, an airline cargo container packed with 5,000 batteries suddenly caught fire.

Just such a fire was blamed on the 2010 crash of a UPS cargo plane carrying 80,000 batteries. Two pilots were killed in the crash.

In 2006 another UPS cargo plane barely made it to Philadelphia after a fire erupted on board. Both pilots managed to escape.

UPS, FedEx and JetBlue are adding E-Vas oxygen systems to their planes so pilots can breathe and see through the smoke in a fast-moving fire.

"There are billions of these lithium-ion batteries being carried and they all have the potential to catch fire," Greg Feith a former National Transportation Safety Board investigator and aviation analyst told NBC News.