Is it time to ban batteries in the air?

Last week, KLM flight attendants put out a fire in an overhead compartment caused by a lithium-ion battery in passenger’s hand luggage’ on flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok.

Mobile phones, laptops and tablet computers are powered by lithium batteries.

A KLM spokesperson said the incident occurred when the Boeing 777 carrying 321 passengers plus crew was taxiing to its gate at Bangkok International Airport after flying in from Amsterdam.

In response, last week Boeing and other aircraft makers pressed for a ban on bulk lithium battery shipments on passenger planes, saying the threat of fires is ‘an unacceptable risk’.

What happens if the fire starts in the luggage compartment?

New research shows that lithium batteries can explode and burn even more violently than previously thought, raising questions about their use and shipment on passenger airplanes.

New research shows that lithium batteries can explode and burn even more violently than previously thought, raising questions about their use and shipment on passenger airplanes.

A United Parcel Service cargo plane was carrying 81,000 lithium batteries when it caught fire and crashed after taking off from Dubai on Sept. 3, 2010.

Malaysian Airlines flight 370 was carrying a 440 pounds of lithium-ion batteries in the cargo hold when it vanished over the South China Sea.

For years FlyersRights challenged the safety of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner over its lithium-ion batteries that is used to run its electrical system, and disputed the FAA’s policy of delegating safety and regulatory authority to Boeing.

Cockpit smoke reported an average of four times a month

From 2000 to 2013, more than 650 incidents of smoke in the cockpit have been reported to the FAA.

Over 200 emergency landings a year in the US are typically due to smoke or fire. A December 2014 DOT Advisory Circular (AC) about in-flight fires indirectly reveals the alarming lack of defense against airliner fires.

It’s hard to understand how the FAA could possibly permit two-engine planes like the Boeing 787 with fire prone lithium ion batteries to fly up to 5 1/2 hours from the nearest landing zone. The AC points out that fires not discovered and extinguished can become uncontrollable within 6 to 10 minutes and destroy an aircraft with 20 minutes.

The biggest danger of the long haul over ocean flights that are up to five hours from the nearest landing zone is that their emergency landing defense in case of fire is increasingly impractical.

Also, the newer commercial airliners, Airbus 360 or 380 and Boeing 787 have order of magnitude increases in electrical power over older aircraft.

Allowing passengers to use laptops and other electronic devices and soon to provide plug in recharge outlets at seats adds hundreds of new potential sources of overheating, fire and smoke, which may increase the risks by 10 to several hundred fold.

To date, the FAA has ignored the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations and its own prior safety criteria regarding lithium-ion batteries on airliners.

Is it time to ban lithium-ion batteries on a plane?

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About the Author
Kendall Creighton is a political activist and previous Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffer in Washington, as well as in the Clinton White House. She currently works for FlyersRights.org, an advocacy group for airline passengers.
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