Cabin crew member uses a fire extinguisher to douse the fire on board a plane at New York’s LaGuardia Airport Cabin crew member uses a fire extinguisher to douse the fire on board a plane at New York’s LaGuardia Airport

A lithium battery fire broke out on a plane just moments before it was due to take off.

The passengers were boarding the flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Houston in Texas when a battery for a vape pen caught fire in an overhead luggage compartment.

Crew doused the flames with a fire extinguisher but the incident was serious enough for all the passengers to be evacuated and they then had to wait several hours for a replacement plane.

It makes you think what would have happened if the battery had caught fire in an aircraft cabin packed with passengers at 30,000ft.

Lithium-ion batteries power everything from mobile phones to laptops and the rise in lithium battery fires is posing a particular problem in the confined space of passenger aircraft which is why cabin crew now often include in the safety briefing a warning that if passengers lose their mobile phones down seats they should alert the staff and not try to retrieve it themselves. If they do, the phone could get crushed in the seat mechanism, sparking a thermal runaway fire.

During thermal runaway one cell overheating in a battery 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. Incidents of thermal runaway are on the rise.

One way to tackle such incidents is to use an AvSax fire containment bag which can deal with fires in personal electronic devices. More than 15,373 are now on aircraft operated by 75 airline companies across the world – including some of the biggest and best-known. 

AvSax  – which won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2018 - has been used 31 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017. Deployment is so effective that extremely expensive diversions to alternate airports are avoided.