A fire in a laptop could be enough to bring a passenger plane down.

A shocking new government study in the USA has shown that carrying electronic devices in luggage in aircraft holds can, in rare circumstances, be exceptionally dangerous.

According to the American Journal of Transportation 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.

Safety experts had thought that single lithium battery fires would be knocked down by the flame-retardant gas used in passenger airliner cargo holds. But tests conducted by the United States 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 passengers.

“That could then cause an issue that would compromise the aircraft,” said Duane Pfund, international programme co-ordinator at the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, speaking at an aviation safety forum in Washington. PHMSA regulates hazardous materials on airliners along with FAA.

The FAA tests found that the anti-fire halon gas installed in airline cargo areas wouldn’t extinguish a lithium battery fire, but it prevents the blaze from spreading to adjacent material such as cardboard or clothing.

However, aerosol cans exploded in tests even after being bathed in the halon gas, the FAA found.

“There is the potential for the resulting event to exceed the capabilities of the airplane to cope with it,” the FAA said in a notice to airlines last year.

The research highlights the growing risks of lithium batteries, which are increasingly used to power everything from mobile phones to gaming devices. Bulk shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries have been banned on passenger planes.

According to the FAA between March 20, 1991, and May 2, 2018, there were 206 thermal runaway incidents involving lithium batteries either at airports or on board aircraft. 

The FAA hasn’t imposed any new restrictions on what passengers may pack in checked bags. Last year, in a notice to airlines, it said they should conduct a safety study to determine what more they should do to limit the risks of battery fires in cargo areas.

To read more on this story go to https://www.ajot.com/news/study-shows-one-overheated-laptop-battery-could-down-an-airliner 

* When it comes to planes AvSax fire containment bags are now on board several major airlines worldwide and were deployed 27 times in 2017.

If an electronic device – and that includes e-cigarettes - starts to seriously overheat or emit smoke the cabin crew will pour at least two litres of water into an AvSax. It is imperative to first knock down the flames from the device using an on board halon fire extinguisher, then transfer the device into AvSax before it reignites. Additional water is then required. The water activates the polymer gel inside the bag causing it to expand around the device. Should the device keep on venting then the AvSax is tough enough to absorb the energy.

The AvSax cools the batteries in the device, reducing the likelihood of the battery igniting but if it does go into thermal runaway it is all contained within the bag.

Amazingly, the water is absorbed into the internal lining of the bag so the device is dry when it is removed.