Laptop Battery Fire in Checked Luggage Could Bring Down an Airliner: Study

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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.

Regulators had thought that single lithium battery fires would be knocked down by the flame-retardant gas required in passenger airliner cargo holds. But tests conducted 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 by travelers.
“This can cause a problem to the aircraft,” said Duane Pfund, international program coordinator at the US Department of Aviation and Dangerous Goods Safety Administration. PHMSA, along with the FAA, arranges dangerous items in aircraft.

The research reveals the growing risks of lithium batteries being used increasingly to strengthen everything from cell phones to gaming devices. Rechargeable lithium batteries have been banned on bulk passenger planes.

Findings from the FAA last year have asked the government to advocate that the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization urges it to ban larger electronic devices than a cell phone in controlled bags. This effort was short, Pfund said.

“In one way or another, we have to deal with these dangers,” said Scott Schwartz, manager of the Air Line Pilots Association’s hazardous commodity program. ALPA, North America’s largest pilot union, is organizing an annual security conference.

ALPA has not taken an official position as to whether or not there is a ban on lithium batteries in the checked bags, and whether many passengers will fear it. At least the union wants bigger training campaigns, so it’s less likely to place spare batteries and electronics in travelers’ checked bags.

Experiences have shown that they can be extinguished with water while fires in transported goods create their own hazards in flight. The crew can not reach the baggage area during the flight, so you must trust the fire extinguishing system of the aircraft.
In June 2017, the US Department of Homeland Security sent fears that such an electronics could be used to hide terrorist bombs as small as a tablet computer. The agent stopped threatening to get the devices into the airline cabinets, but the electron had to be scanned in addition.

The FAA has not introduced any new restrictions that passengers can pack in checked bags. In the past year, a statement to the airlines said that they need to conduct a safety study to determine what they need to do to limit the risks of battery fires in cargo areas.

The FAA tests found that an anti-fire halon gas set up in air cargo areas would not extinguish a lithium battery fire, but prevented the fire from spreading to adjacent materials such as cardboard or clothing.

However, the FAA exploded in the test even after it was washed in halon gas.

The FAA said in a statement on last year’s airline, “The potential for your achievement has the potential to overcome the capabilities of the aircraft in order to arrive from the top of the aircraft.”

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