Stock photo of man vaping Stock photo of man vaping An AvSax lithium battery fire containment bag An AvSax lithium battery fire containment bag

‘Sparking’ vape pen sparks mid-air emergency on board passenger aircraft

A passenger’s overheating vape pen sparked a mid-air fire alert on board a passenger plane bound for the Dominican Republic.

The scare happened on board a plane flying from Charlotte in North Carolina and has now been revealed by the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA.

The FAA records all thermal incidents involving Lithium batteries taken on board aircraft as baggage or air cargo on a public document that is continuously being updated.

The latest incident happened on June 21, 2021 and the log states: “While in flight from Charlotte NC to the Dominican Republic a Lithium battery powered vape pen started sparking. A flight attendant sprayed a Halon based extinguisher on it and placed it into a containment bag. The plane landed without further incident.”

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 now been 322 incidents involving lithium batteries reported to the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA between 2006 and June 30, 2021.

But the FAA warns there may have been more incidents, adding: “These are events that the FAA is aware of and should not be considered a complete listing of all such incidents. This list does not include three major accidents where Lithium battery cargo shipments were implicated but not proven to be the source of the fire: An Asiana Airlines 747 near South Korea on July 28, 2011, a UPS 747 on September 3, 2010 and a UPS DC-8 in Philadelphia, PA on February 7, 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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