AvSax lithium battery fire mitigation bags have been featured in a hard-hitting news report by CBS in the US about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries on passenger planes.
The report reveals that in the last five years the number of incidents of lithium-ion batteries overheating or catching fire on planes has increased by more than 40% and since 2021 there has been an average of a lithium battery incident on a plane in the US at least once a week.
The batteries – described as “uniquely hazardous” in the report - power all our everyday personal electronic items such as cell phones, laptops, iPads, vapes and even headphones.
AvSax won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the UK for its innovation – the highest award any business can get.
They are now on board around 16,750 aircraft operated by more than 100 airline companies worldwide, including some of the best-known names in the aviation industry. AvSax have been deployed in action at least 33 times on board aircraft since 2017 and on every occasion the aircraft was able to continue safely to its destination with no need to divert or make an emergency landing.
But the CBS news report revealed that many airlines still don’t carry lithium battery thermal containment bags and showed how potentially dangerous thermal batteries can be by blowing one up in the fire research laboratory at the University of Texas in Austin.
They did this by heating it up and then adding a spark to it.
CBS reporter Stephen Stock said: “The explosion was so loud, so forceful and so quick it took us by surprise.”
Research director Ofodike Ezekoye is worried when this happens on a passenger aircraft cruising at 30,000ft. He said: “It can cause an accident that the aircraft crew and the airplane cannot manage. It’s literally life or death.”
Ofodike described lithium batteries as “uniquely hazardous” as the fires are within the battery cells so the fuel, oxygen and heat are all contained within the cell. This means they can keep flaring up and lithium batteries can even burn underwater.
When it overheats, a lithium battery goes into a chemical process called thermal runaway and when this happens 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 and they are then very difficult to put out which is why it must go into a lithium battery fire containment bag as quickly as possible on an aircraft.
Flight attendants and pilots are worried about the growing danger caused by lithium battery fires on passenger aircraft.
Christoper Lee from the Association of Flight Attendants was faced with a burning lithium battery in an overhead storage bin on a flight in March 2023. The crew and passengers managed to deal with the battery which was in a vape but the airline did not have lithium battery containment bag.
Christopher said: “They will be very helpful to have.”
At the moment the airlines’ regulating organisation in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), does not require aircraft to carry lithium battery thermal containment bags and has no test standards or mechanisms to approve them.
But it clearly realises the risk by adding: “The FAA has no objection to the use of the various commercially manufactured containment products.”
Some pilots think all passenger aircraft should carry the containment bags, which are sometimes called burn bags.
Dennis Tajer from the Allied Pilots Association simply says: “Make it the rule.”
And when CBS reporter Stephen Stock asks Secretary Pete Buttigieg from the US Department of Transportation if planes should be required by the FAA to carry the bags, he said: “That’s exactly what we’re working on right now. Any time we’re going to impose by law a certain technology or a certain strategy we need to make sure that it’s appropriate, that it’s informed by the right data. But, clearly, we need to make sure we continue taking steps that are going to contain any kind of hazard here.”
In the meantime, all passengers have a crucial role to play in making flying as safe as possible.
Always take all your personal electronic devices including power banks and any spare lithium batteries with you into the passenger cabin and never put them in checked luggage in the aircraft hold.
This means the crew can deal with the batteries if they overheat or catch fire. If they catch fire in the hold the fire could quickly spread and the aircraft’s automatic sprinkler system could struggle to douse a fire of such intensity. Lithium batteries can also keep flaring up.
If you lose your mobile phone down your seat call the cabin crew for help to retrieve it. Never just move the seat as this could crush the phone in its mechanism, damaging the battery and setting it on fire.
Always buy batteries from reputable sources. Cheap batteries bought on the internet may well fail to meet safety standards.
For more information on AvSax go to www.avsax.com
To watch the CBS news report click here.