THE USA is banning plane passengers from putting lithium-ion batteries in the luggage hold  to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires on aircraft. 

The new rules also mean companies will not be allowed to ship batteries on cargo planes if they have a more than 30% charge to reduce the fire risk. The ban prevents iPhones, iPads, lithium-ion batteries and other electronic devices from shipping with a full charge. 

The legislation means passengers MUST carry lithium-ion batteries in bags they take into the passenger cabin.  

The rules come amid concerns that if lithium-ion batteries caught fire in a process called thermal runaway the fire suppression systems in cargo holds may not be able to deal with a fire of such intense heat. 

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. 

The rules are being implemented by The United States Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – and these have been force in some other countries since 2016. 

Large carriers in the USA already voluntarily comply with these requirements that were adopted by UN aviation agency the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said under certain conditions lithium batteries could result in smoke or fire and warns that a battery fire could exceed the capabilities of an aircraft's fire suppression system and lead to a catastrophic failure.

PHMSA said it was introducing the rules to deal with "an immediate safety hazard." 

A 2015 working paper by a group representing plane makers including Boeing said current firefighting systems were not adequate to "suppress or extinguish a fire involving significant quantities of lithium batteries." 

According to a Reuters report published by NBC News, US regulators identified 39 incidents in air cargo transportation between 2010 and 2016 with 13 involving lithium batteries and smoke, fire, extreme heat or explosion that would have been affected by the new rules.

PHMSA also noted three aircraft accidents in 2007, 2010 and 2011 linked to lithium ion batteries transported as cargo as either the cause or a factor that increased the severity of the fire. Those accidents resulted in the complete loss of all three aircraft and four lives. 

The FAA conducted 10 tests in which it packed a fully-charged laptop into a suitcase and then checked out a number of scenarios in which the battery could catch fire. In one example an aerosol can of dry shampoo was strapped on the laptop. A fire immediately started causing the aerosol can to explode in just 40 seconds.
* The problem of fires in personal electronic devices on passenger planes seems to be growing. One way to tackle such incidents on planes is to use an AvSax fire containment bag which can deal with fires in personal electronic devices and are now carried on aircraft operated by 65 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 28 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017.

More than 13,500 AvSax are now carried on aircraft worldwide. Deployment is so effective that extremely expensive diversions to alternate airports are avoided. 

* Written by Andy Hirst at AH! PR