Should we restrict lithium ion batteries on airplanes to keep travelers safe?
UPDATE: 09/23/2016 – Are Lithium batteries safe on airplanes? Should they be restricted? – A Samsung Galaxy Note 2 caught fire in the bag of a traveler that was stored in an overhead compartment on an airplane today. Flight 6E-054 was landing in Chennai from Singapore when passengers smelled the smoke. No one was injured and the crew used a fire extinguisher to douse the fire.
Lithium Ion batteries that are bulging, no longer flat, and no longer fit easily into phones are a major concern. So are all Lithium Ion Batteries on airplanes that are loose in bags, where the metal contacts can come into contact with other items that conduct electricity.
Just last week (September 16, 2016) there was a different report of a Lithium Ion battery on an airplane catching fire. This time the airline was in mid-flight. And it wasn’t a Samsung phone either. Or even a battery connected to a device. In fact, the staff on Delta flight 2557 had specifically told passengers to turn off Samsung Note 7 phones. But it didn’t help.
Since last year the FAA has been trying to tell travelers that Lithium Ion batteries and airplanes don’t mix. (See http://www.popularmechanics.com/flight/a17824/faa-lithium-ion-batteries/) But the batteries are in just about every electronic device these days, so the message is not resonating with passengers. That is until a plane goes down in flames.
That almost happened to Delta flight 2557. Shortly after takeoff from Norfolk to Atlanta early Friday morning,
“It quickly became evident that the source of the smoke was from a spare battery not affixed to a device,” Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said. Airline attendants quickly put out the fire created by the battery that seemingly had slipped between the seats. None of the 143 passengers or five crew were injured. And no one claimed the battery as their own. Investigators are trying to resolve how long the battery might have been on the airplane.
A Delta spokesperson who confirmed the fire on board said the battery “did not appear” to be from a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, but said an investigation was ongoing to determine the source and type of battery involved.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March 2014 was also carrying a large shipment of lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium Ion Batteries on airplanes in luggage or your carry on baggage
The FAA has urged airlines to warn passengers of the risks of carrying spare batteries in their baggage, both checked luggage and carry-ons. Loose batteries “present a risk of both igniting and fueling fires in aircraft cargo and baggage compartments,” the FAA has said.
Airlines are supposed to be warning passengers of the risk due to Lithium Ion batteries on airplanes at the time of booking, again when they check in, and even a third time if they are gate-checking a bag, but I just got back from Los Angeles and neither coming or going did anyone mention turning off phones or devices entirely, mention the risks of Lithium Ion batteries, or to not charge batteries while in flight. Of course there is still the question of whether completely turning off a phone or device is a viable solution to the problem.
According to the linked Popular Mechanics article, the FAA pushed for an international ban on carrying batteries in large numbers as cargo on passenger airliners. Some airlines were already voluntarily banning such cargo. Among them are the four largest domestic airlines—American, Delta, United, Southwest—and major international lines like British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, Etihad, and Qantas. But there is a greater problem overseas due to the number of international airlines not observing the rules or not knowing the contents of shipments.
Since January 2008, spare batteries in checked bags are not allowed. However there is currently no way of knowing how many batteries are being carried aboard plans in the baggage are. (See the full FAA frequently asked questions .pdf here: https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ash/ash_programs/hazmat/passenger_info/media/Airline_passengers_and_batteries.pdf)
But it is not just batteries as cargo that are a problem as the N.Y. Times and others have been warning. So far there have been no airliner disasters specifically attributed to passengers’ digital devices. However, The Royal Aeronautical Society in Britain estimates that even a single-aisle jet with only 100 passengers might have more than 500 lithium-ion batteries aboard. (Read below, “How to protect personal lithium ion batteries from short circuit.”) As far back as 2014, the Wall Street Journal has reported on the danger, but no one seems to be listening.
The new ban against batteries as cargo was enacted by the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization in April,
and the U.S Department of Transportation. But while U.S. regulators don’t allow lithium-metal batteries to be shipped in the cargo holds of passenger jets anymore, many other countries permit them as cargo.
The Department of Transportation, which oversees the FAA, said Monday it agrees that the ban is “a necessary action to protect passengers, crews, and aircraft from the current risk to aviation safety.” (From http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/23/news/companies/lithium-ion-battery-ban-airplanes/) According to Money Magazine, at least two other deadly cargo jet crashes have been blamed on fires caused by these batteries. A Boeing 747 crashed in Dubai killing two crew members in 2010. In 2011, an Asiana Airlines 747 crashed off South Korea, also killing two crew members (See link above). Here is a short video of the FAA’s test of Lithium Ion battery failure in cargo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFvlbkELG-I&list=PL950A610ABD237668&index=19
Here is a listing of ALL EVENTS As of 9/15/2016 from the FAA Office of Security and Hazardous Materials Safety
Is it just our opinion but is this a much more “real and present danger” than turning off phones at takeoff and landing due to a possible risk of interference with plane-to-tower communications?
According to Reuters, Pilots and aircraft manufacturers are concerned that existing standards are not strong enough to contain lithium battery fires. A 2015 working paper by an organization representing plane makers like Boeing Co found current firefighting systems on airliners could not “suppress or extinguish a fire involving significant quantities of lithium batteries.” (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-airlines-safety-batteries-idUSKCN0VW04Y)
The N.Y. Times quotes one engineer as saying that “if you sit and talk with a pilot or an aircrew, they’ll say it happens once a month.” And that “this is not a remote occurrence.” And more passengers are carrying devices than ever. The batteries themselves are getting larger, hotter and more powerful. Not good signs for prognosticators. And no one is even addressing the larger “power banks” and power packs many of us are carrying on trips these days to recharge devices (when you may not have access to a wall plug). Power banks are commonly Lithium Ion batteries themselves and can be 3000, 5000, 22,000 or even a whopping 50,000mAh (Most smartphones are powered by Lithium Ion batteries under 3100mAh)!
“Safety advocates say battery hazards are underreported and few carriers highlight the topic in passenger-safety cards or during briefings by flight attendants. Air France, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic are among the handful of airlines that have gone the furthest to alert crews and explicitly warn passengers about the potential risks…Keeping track of cabin events is particularly tough. Unlike cases of in-flight entertainment systems heating up, there aren’t any established, industry-wide procedures for tracking similar battery malfunctions related to mobile phones, laptops, tablets or the many devices they power.” (According to http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-issues-new-rules-for-air-cargo-shipments-of-lithium-batteries-1406894115)
The International Air Transport Association has an article about Lithium Ion batteries on airplanes here: http://www.iata.org/whatwedo/cargo/dgr/Pages/lithium-batteries.aspx
And CBS This Morning also did a special report (on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eej_aP5yu3g&list=PL950A610ABD237668&index=18).
Here is why those Samsung Note 7 batteries exploded. But this is not just an isolated incident specific to Samsung or their latest Note 7 device.
It is very important to “protect personal Lithium Ion batteries on airplanes from short circuit.”
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