Budget airline Ryanair has added new vital information to its normal pre-flight safety message to passengers.
After the familiar part about oxygen masks, ditching in the sea and how to use your lifejacket, you’ll now hear the crew warning passengers to alert crew immediately if their electronic device such as an iPad, mobile phone or laptop starts to overheat or people lose them in their seats.
This is what Ryanair cabin crew say just before take-off: “If your device or its battery is damaged, hot, produces smoke, is lost or falls into the seat structure then please inform the cabin crew immediately.”
Seems a strange warning so what does it actually mean?
Well, it’s actually a far more important warning than the one about lifejackets which have hardly ever been used in commercial flying. The only time it really happened was in 2009 when a US Airways flight made an emergency ditching on the Hudson River in New York after the plane hit a flock of large Canadian geese and lost all power after some were sucked into the engines, shutting them down. There were 150 people on board, only 33 grabbed their lifejackets and just four put them on properly.
More important is the risk of fire on an aircraft which is what this Ryanair warning is all about.
All personal electronic devices are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and with passengers taking mobile phones, laptops and iPads on board there are hundreds on every flight.
The trouble is many people buy cheap batteries and chargers on the internet not covered by safety standards so there is always the danger they can catch fire in a frighteningly quick process called 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 and, because they burn at such a high temperature, they are very difficult to put out.
The organisation covering flight safety in the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority, says a fire caused by a lithium battery could cause catastrophic damage to an aircraft and even bring it down.
It states: “Poor quality or counterfeit batteries have been the cause of fires on board aircraft. In recent years we’ve seen a growing number of fire incidents involving lithium batteries which have the potential to lead to the loss of an aircraft. All types of batteries must pass stringent tests. Batteries which are not tested such as counterfeit batteries pose a significant risk to flight safety.”
Also, if personal electronic devices are lost down seats they can become crushed in the mechanism which could well cause the device to go into thermal runaway, setting fire to the seat.
The CAA adds: “Any fire on board an aircraft, particularly one involving lithium batteries, has the potential to be catastrophic. There have been occasions where incidents involving lithium batteries have occurred in the passenger cabin. Prompt actions of cabin crew and subsequent actions by the flight crew can avoid an inflight fire becoming uncontrollable with potentially disastrous consequences. Therefore, it is important the cabin crew respond quickly.”
Each airline company has its own procedure for dealing with the danger but the one preferred by the CAA is to use specialist battery fire containment bags as they are designed to deal with the problem in seconds. The CAA warns that these so-called burn bags must be able to both cool and contain the device.
It adds: “After knocking down flames it could conceivably take just a couple of seconds for a PED to be placed inside a containment bag, allowing it to be moved to a place of safety.
“Passengers could then return to their seats, mitigating potential unrelated safety hazards such as injury in the case of severe turbulence. Equally, the effect on flight crew carrying out their duties following an event on the flight deck would be minimised.”
The world’s best-selling fire containment bag, the AvSax, was devised in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK by Environmental Defence Systems Ltd and was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its innovation – the highest award any invention can achieve.
AvSax (http://avsax.com/) lithium battery fire containment bags are now on more than 15,373 aircraft operated by 80 airline companies worldwide. 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.
The AvSax is made from military grade material so can withstand the force of a blast if the device does explode.
If planes don’t have a battery burn bag on board and a device such as a laptop catches fire, the advice is to douse the flames with water or any other non-flammable liquid such as soft drinks to try to stop thermal runaway spreading through the battery’s device which could lead to the risk of explosion.
The CAA advice is to then leave the electronic device where it is and monitor it for up to 15 minutes in case it reignites.
The CAA states: “This is because water tipped onto many PEDs such as laptops or tablets may not reach the battery compartment and, in turn, this may be insulated by the surface the PED is sat on, for example a seat back meal tray. On the flight deck, dousing an item with water may be difficult due to confined space and the water could potentially damage other electronic systems.”
After the initial fire emergency the crew should then submerge the item in water in a container and monitor both the device and the surrounding area for the rest of the flight.
If an AvSax is used then the emergency can be resolved in seconds. Once the fire is doused the device is put into the AvSax and water added to cool it down before the bag is sealed up.
How do AvSax work?
If an electronic device starts to seriously overheat or emit smoke the cabin crew will pour at least two litres of water into an AvSax. It is imperative to first knock down the flames from the device using an on-board halon fire extinguisher, then transfer the device into AvSax before it reignites. Additional water is then required. 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 energy.
The AvSax cools the batteries in the device, reducing the likelihood of the battery igniting but if it does go into what is known as thermal runaway with all the battery cells igniting it is all contained within the bag. Tests have shown that AvSax can withstand exploding detonators or battery packs.
Amazingly, the water is absorbed into the internal lining of the bag so the device is dry when it is removed.
To find out more go to http://avsax.com/