-- A single personal electronic device that overheats
and catches fire in checked luggage on an airliner can
overpower the aircraft’s fire suppression system,
potentially creating a fire that could rage
uncontrolled, according to new government research.
had thought that single lithium battery fires would be
knocked down by the flame-retardant gas required in
passenger airliner cargo holds. Buttestsconducted
by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration found the
suppression systems can’t extinguish a battery fire that
combines with other highly flammable material, such as
the gas in an aerosol can or cosmetics commonly carried
could then cause an issue that would compromise the
aircraft,” said Duane Pfund, international program
coordinator at the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials
Safety Administration, speaking Wednesday at an aviation
safety forum in Washington. PHMSA regulates hazardous
materials on airliners along with FAA.
research highlights the growing risks of lithium
batteries, which are increasingly used to power
everything from mobile phones to gaming devices. Bulk
shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries have been
banned on passenger planes.
findings last year by the FAA prompted the government to
advocate that the United Nations International Civil
Aviation Organization call for a ban on electronic
devices larger than a mobile phone in checked bags. That
effort fell short, Pfund said.
way or another, we have to deal with these hazards,”
said Scott Schwartz, director of the Air Line Pilots
Association’s hazardous goods program. ALPA, the largest
pilots union in North America, is holding its annual
hasn’t taken a formal position on whether there should
be a ban on lithium batteries in checked bags and some
fear that many passengers would simply ignore it. At the
very least, the union is seeking greater education
campaigns so travelers are less likely to place spare
batteries and electronics in their checked bags.
fires in carry-on items create their own hazards on
flights, experience has shown that they can be
extinguished with water. Crew can’t reach bags in cargo
areas during flight, so must rely on a plane’s fire
U.S. Homeland Security Department in June 2017funneledmore
such electronics into cargo holds out of fears that
electronics as small as a tablet computer could be used
to hide terrorist bombs. The agency stopped short of a
threatened ban on taking the devices into airline
cabins, but required additional screening of
FAA hasn’t imposed any new restrictions on what
passengers may pack in checked bags. Last year, in a
notice to airlines, it said they should conduct a safety
study to determine what more they should do to limit the
risks of battery fires in cargo areas.
FAA tests found that the anti-fire halon gas installed
in airline cargo areas wouldn’t extinguish a lithium
battery fire, but it prevents the blaze from spreading
to adjacent material such as cardboard or clothing.
aerosol cans exploded in tests even after being bathed
in the halon gas, the FAA found.
is the potential for the resulting event to exceed the
capabilities of the airplane to cope with it,” the FAA
said in a notice to airlines last year.