Smoke spirals through an aircraft passenger cabin during a lithium battery incident Smoke spirals through an aircraft passenger cabin during a lithium battery incident A pilot with an AvSax lithium battery mitigation bag A pilot with an AvSax lithium battery mitigation bag

Mobile phone catches fire on transatlantic flight … here’s how the cabin crew saved the day

A mobile phone caught fire on a passenger airline over the Atlantic Ocean.

The United Airlines Boeing had taken off from Newark in New Jersey heading for Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in France when smoke started to spiral from a passenger’s smartphone just as the plane was flying over the Canadian coastline at Newfoundland.

According to the Aviation Herald, the flight crew managed to tackle the fire with halon extinguishers and requested a diversion and emergency landing at St John’s International Airport in Newfoundland.

But once they had doused the fire and put the phone into a thermal containment bag they cancelled the request to divert less than 10 minutes later and carried on to Paris, landing there almost seven hours after departure.

No-one was hurt in the incident on December 19, 2023.

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates civil aviation in the USA and releases information about lithium battery incidents in American airspace or involving American aircraft.

In the 466 verified lithium incidents the FAA has revealed since 2006, battery packs accounted for 195 with e-cigarettes or vapes (97), mobile phones (59) and laptops (57).

The problem is so serious that most airlines now include warnings about lithium batteries in their pre-flight safety briefings to passengers before the planes take off.

They warn that if their personal electronic device overheats or gets lost in the seat to tell cabin crew immediately. If the device such as a mobile phone slips into a seat and the chair is then moved, its mechanism could crush the phone, damaging the battery and setting it on fire.

When a lithium battery becomes faulty it goes into what’s known as thermal runaway and when this happens one cell 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 and they are then very difficult to put out which is why fire mitigation bags are so important, especially in the confined space of aircraft passenger cabins.

It's also why more than 100 airlines worldwide now carry AvSax lithium battery mitigation bags on almost 17,000 passenger aircraft so they are ready to deal quickly and effectively with such incidents. Every time it has been deployed the plane has been able to continue safely to its destination, avoiding the need for costly diversions and emergency landings.

AvSax, which are made from military grade material, will contain the device even if it explodes.

They are made by Environmental Defence Systems Ltd based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK, and AvSax won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for their innovation, the highest accolade any business can get.