Eviation Alice prototype electric plane Eviation Alice prototype electric plane Firefighters tackling the blaze on board the Eviation Alice prototype electric plane Firefighters tackling the blaze on board the Eviation Alice prototype electric plane

Battery caused fire on prototype electric plane … and here’s why all aircraft need protection from lithium battery fires

A blaze which damaged a prototype electric plane was caused by a battery overheating, a report has revealed.

The plane, Eviation Alice, was on the ground at Prescott Regional Airport in Arizona when the fire broke out. 

The plane, an Israel-based project, is a business and commuter aircraft designed to fly nine passengers. It has a range of 440 miles (815km), can fly up to 252mph and has three propellers powered by a 920kWh lithium-ion battery pack. 

According to airline magazine FlightGlobal, the report from the Prescott Fire Department says: “Small electric aircraft, heavy smoke. Owner stated we would not be able to extinguish due to the heavy Li-Ion battery load.” 

A Federal Aviation Administration lithium-ion battery ‘event’ report mentions the incident, saying: “A lithium battery used to power an experimental aircraft exploded at Prescott airport.” 

The fire happened in January and at that time Eviation issued a short statement saying the fire was “believed to have been caused by a ground-based battery system which was being utilised during rigorous testing of its all-electric airplane.” 

The pilot had been testing the engines on the ground on and off for several hours when the fire broke out. 

According to the report from the fire marshal who led the firefighting: “A possible malfunction occurred in the aircraft battery system while the engines were being tested, which resulted in the fire.” 

He added that the pilot felt the battery box, “noticing it was getting hot, then he turned back and noticed grey smoke coming from under his seat.” The three crew on board quickly evacuated and no-one was hurt. 

To see video of the fire go to https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=722278014963205

On traditional aircraft there is a risk of passengers’ small electronic items such as laptops and mobile phones going into thermal runaway when the batteries overheat and catch fire on planes and helicopters. This happens when one cell in a battery overheats it can produce enough heat – up to 900°C (1652°F) – to cause adjacent cells to overheat. This can cause a lithium battery fire to flare repeatedly.

There have been 300 incidents in the last 14 years and the Federal Aviation Administration has details of them all here https://www.faa.gov/hazmat/resources/lithium_batteries/media/Battery_incident_chart.pdf

Thermal runaway can have devastating consequences in the confined space of a small aircraft but many airline operators have AvSax fire containment bags on board which can even contain exploding battery chargers that have gone into thermal runaway.

It means all aircraft need them from small charter planes to luxury corporate jets.

AvSax are the world’s best-selling aircraft fire containment bags by far and are now on more than 15,373 aircraft operated by 80 airline companies. They have been used 32 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017 and every time they have been deployed the aircraft has been able to complete its journey safely with no need to divert or make an emergency landing. Diversions can be very costly to the airline company and can even run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

AvSax won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the UK in 2018.

Check out our comprehensive blog about thermal runaway incidents on board planes at http://avsax.com/news