An AvSax fire mitigation bag used to deal with overheating lithium-ion batteries An AvSax fire mitigation bag used to deal with overheating lithium-ion batteries Vaping. Photo by Koke Mayayo. Vaping. Photo by Koke Mayayo.

Overheating vape pen sparks mid-air emergency on board passenger plane

Lithium-ion batteries can go into thermal runaway which is particularly dangerous on aircraft

A plane’s mid-air fire emergency was quickly sorted after a passenger’s overheating vape pen was put into a special fire containment bag.

The drama happened on board the Southwest Airlines flight making the 500-mile journey over California from San Diego to Sacramento last Wednesday (March 17, 2021).

According to online news publication Travel Pulse, the passenger was in the plane’s toilet when his vape pen began to overheat in his pocket. When he took it out, the device’s lithium battery started smoking and caught fire.

The fire was quickly doused and a flight attendant put the vape pen in a containment bag in case it flared up again. No-one was hurt and the bag was handed over to firefighters when the plane landed.

All electronic devices ranging from mobile phones and iPads to laptops and vape pens are powered by lithium-ion batteries. If they overheat or catch fire they go into what’s known as thermal runaway. This happens when one cell in a battery overheats it 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. There have been 268 involving lithium batteries reported to the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA since 2006.

Many airlines now carry specialist fire containment bags to minimise the risk. The FAA insists that lithium-ion batteries are only taken into the cabin and NOT put in the luggage hold as the intensity of any lithium-ion battery fire may not be doused by an automatic fire suppression system in the hold.

AvSax are the world’s best-selling aircraft fire containment bags by far and are now on more than 15,373 aircraft operated by 80 airline companies. They have been used 33 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017 and every time they have been deployed the aircraft has been able to complete its journey safely with no need to divert or make an emergency landing. Diversions can be very costly to the airline company and can even run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

AvSax won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the UK in 2018.

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