The UK’s aviation safety regulator says counterfeit and faulty lithium batteries now pose a “significant risk” to aircraft safety as there is a danger they can catch fire on board.
But the Civil Aviation Authority says special battery fire containment bags on some aircraft means such fires can be contained within seconds and reveals it will take several minutes to deal with this kind of fire if the aircraft doesn’t have these fire safety devices on board.
Lithium batteries power all our personal electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops and iPads so there are hundreds on every flight.
The CAA warns that planes without these special burn bags – the most widely used worldwide is the award-winning AvSax lithium battery fire containment bag devised in the UK – it will take at least 15 minutes to make sure the fire is out but in that time it could put the passengers, crew and aircraft all at risk.
Using AvSax lithium battery fire containment bags means the emergency can be contained almost immediately. When lithium-ion batteries overheat and catch fire it’s a process 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 and, because they burn at such a high temperature, they are very difficult to put out which is why special lithium battery fire containment bags are needed.
The CAA has just updated its advice to cabin crew with a hard-hitting video which shows how dangerous lithium battery fires can be.
The video reveals: “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.
“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.”
The Civil Aviation Authority warns the burn bag must be able to both cool and contain the device, which the AvSax does.
The CAA 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.”
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 them 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. The AvSax is made from military grade material so can withstand the force of a blast if the device does explode.
AvSax lithium battery fire containment bag for PEDs on aircraft 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 (http://avsax.com/) are devised and manufactured by Environmental Defence Systems Ltd based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire and won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the UK in 2018.
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 see the CAA video go to https://www.caa.co.uk/commercial-industry/airports/safety/dangerous-goods/lithium-batteries/