Study shows overheated laptop battery could down an airliner

“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,” Alan Levin reports for Bloomberg.

“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,” Levin reports. “‘That 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.”

“The 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,” Levin reports. “ALPA, the largest pilots union in North America… 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. While 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 suppression systems.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Sobering. How long will our collective luck hold out? Oh, wait, it ran out years ago.

Trump administration lifts laptop ban on planes from certain Middle Eastern airports – July 20, 2017
Trump administration’s U.S. ban on laptops and tablets on flights from Europe ‘off the table,’ for now – May 18, 2017
Trump administration considers expanding laptop ban in Europe; would cost airline passengers $1.1 billion – May 17, 2017
Trump admin considers widening electronics carry-on ban to European airports; nothing larger than iPhone permitted in cabin – May 11, 2017
US-UK electronic devices ban on planes came after plot to make iPad bomb uncovered – March 27, 2017
Trump administration bans iPads, laptops and other devices in cabin on flights from certain Middle Eastern airports; Britain follows suit – March 21, 2017
FAA warns airline passengers not to use Samsung phones – September 9, 2016
Qantas first airline to restrict in-flight Dell laptop use due to fire-prone batteries – August 23, 2006
Dell issues largest safety recall in history: 4.1 million laptop batteries due to fire threat – August 14, 2006


  1. The risks associated with lithium batteries is making it difficult for film crews to fly. Even a small film crew will typically carry anything from 8 to 20 or more large lithium batteries to power cameras, lights, monitors and sound equipment. There might be upwards of 25kg of lithium batteries on a small shoot.

    Airlines are now wary about carrying that amount of potentially flammable lithium in the hold, yet the weight is such that they won’t allow it as hand baggage in the overhead lockers. When I fly I now switch to specialised sealed lead acid cells for my sound kit precisely to avoid these issues, but some check-in staff regard all rechargeable batteries to be equally risky, even though those particular batteries are never going to catch fire.

    I find it alarming how baggage handlers throw packages around. I’ve had sturdy plastic flight cases ( marked Fragile ) completely smashed by baggage handlers and the contents broken too. On one occasion I was waiting by the large baggage return and heard an almighty crash from below. I looked down the conveyer to see one of my smaller boxes ( marked Fragile ) landing as though it had been thrown in the manner of a bowling ball.

    If some of those boxes had been containing lithium batteries and were abused in that way when loaded, the batteries could have become damaged and later burst into flames in the cargo hold.

    I now have Teladrop shock sensors ( about $5 each ) fitted to my flight cases and take photographs before checking in the flight cases. If those cases are subjected to extreme shock, the sensors show a black flag in a window. I’ve only been using those sensors for a short while and haven’t yet had one triggered, but that might be connected with the fact that there is a large sign on the case warning that shock sensors are fitted. It’s also possible that my choice of 25G sensors are too insensitive and a lower rating might be more appropriate.

  2. Headline: “Study shows overheated laptop battery could down an airliner”

    First line of story:”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,”

    Leading with that “fire” thing on the headline would have made more sense.

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