Lithium batteries have sparked 17 fires on board planes in America already this year.

The figures which are up to May 22 are revealed in a comprehensive document published by the Federal Aviation Administration which reveals there have been 160 known incidents dating back to 1991.

But the FAA accepts there may be many more.

The report states: “These are cargo and baggage incidents that the FAA is aware of. This should not be considered as a complete listing of all such incidents. They do not represent all information the FAA has collected, nor do they include all investigative or enforcement actions taken.

“This list does not include three major aircraft accidents where lithium battery cargo shipments were implicated but not proven to be the source of the fire.”

In response, some airline companies have taken steps to have AvSax fire containment bags on board to deal with any fires in devices caused by lithium ion batteries.

AvSax are now on board several major US carriers.

The AvSax is a special fire-retardant bag used when lithium-ion batteries in mobile phones or other electronic devices catch fire and has been deployed on planes several times already this year

Simply pour at least two litres of water into an AvSax and then drop the burning device into the bag. The water activates the polymer gel inside the bag causing it to expand around the device. Should the device keep on venting then the AvSax is tough enough to absorb the force.

In short, the AvSax cools the batteries in the device, reducing the likelihood of the battery catching fire but if it does go into what is known as thermal runaway it is all contained within the bag.

Here are just a couple examples from the FAA of fires on planes so far this year.

In April a passenger on a Southwest plane from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago, Illinois reported to a flight attendant that there was smoke coming from her purse.

The passenger was carrying an e-cigarette. The flight attendant put the e-cigarette and two spare lithium ion batteries into a fire safe bag to extinguish the smoke.

In March a passenger on a Southwest plane again from Columbus, Ohio, but this time to Ft Lauderdale in Florida informed a flight attendant that their computer was smoking, smelled like burning plastic and was extremely hot to the touch.

The flight attendant took the laptop to the galley and used the halon extinguisher followed by cans of water to cool it.