Laptop sparks mid-air fire alert on board packed passenger jet

A passenger plane suffered a mid air emergency after a laptop caught fire.

The Air Canada jet had just taken off from London Heathrow bound for Toronto with 253 people on board when cabin crew responded to reports of smoke in the toilet. They immediately gave out a pan-pan signal to air traffic controllers which signifies they are dealing with an urgent incident on board.

The crew discovered that a passenger’s laptop was the source of the smoke and put it into what is reported as “an according bag” and cooled with water. The smoke stopped, the crew cancelled the pan-pan and the flight was able to continue to Toronto. If planes have to make an emergency landing the costs can be astronomical, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, and this has happened several times when fires caused by lithium ion batteries have broken out on aircraft.

Pan-pan is the international urgency signal when the safety of a person or the aircraft is potentially in serious jeopardy but no immediate danger exists yet it could escalate into a mayday situation.

As with mayday (from venez m’aider, “come help me”), the urgency signal pan-pan derives from French. In French, a panne is a breakdown, such as a mechanical failure.

Lithium-ion battery fires on board planes are rarely publicised but a fire in a device could emit toxic smoke and potentially the battery may even explode, causing damage to the aircraft and putting lives at risk.

AvSax are the world’s best-selling aircraft fire containment bags by far and are now on more than 15,373 aircraft operated by 75 airline companies across the world and have been used 32 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017. AvSax won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the UK in 2018.