"If you buy a digital camera and want it delivered next-day-air, that might an additional $30 to $40 that the shipper is not going to absorb," he said. "It will have a huge impact on online sales."
The proposed changes would likely affect all consumers to a degree, he said, since electronics goods, because of how quickly they lose value, tend to be shipped via air from factories in Asia to the U.S. rather than sent by ship.
Neither the Department of Transportation nor the House Aviation Subcommittee responded to requests for comment. A major snowstorm was expected to hit Washington D.C. on Friday and many workers stayed home.
For air travelers, the department would also prohibit air passengers from keeping extra alkaline or rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries in their checked-in luggage. Those batteries are acceptable if they are inside the devices. They are also permitted inside or outside devices if stored in carry-on luggage.
The rule changes would also require electronics goods to be carried in cargo sections that either have fire suppression systems, or are accessible by the pilots in case of a fire. Kerchner said that is impractical and would lead to, in many cases, electronics goods piled right behind the cockpit.
While he acknowledged the department's figure of 40 air transport-related incidents since 1991 involving lithium batteries and devices powered by lithium batteries, Kerchner said it is a small number in the context of the 3.3 billion lithium batteries transported in 2008 alone.
"What we've found is that when shippers are in full compliance, there have been no incidents," he said. "The industry has an excellent safety record."
Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld . Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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