Lithium batteries on planes pose ‘increased fire risk,’ report

The huge rise in people carrying lithium batteries on aircraft poses an increased fire risk, the BBC has reported, citing the UK’s safety regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The seemingly harmless lithium batteries in laptops, cell phones, watches and cameras could pose potential fire risk on flights. In June last year, police at San Diego International Airport noticed a passenger’s bag was smoking as it progressed around the carousel. Inside, a lithium-ion battery had touched a screwdriver and both had melted.

In September 2012, a flight attendant and two passengers were burned when they handled a mobile phone and spare battery that overheated during a flight.

In April 2012 a lithium battery inside a passenger’s personal air purifier caught fire at 28,000ft. The battery lay burning in the aisle until a flight attendant put it out with wet towels and then submerged it into a cup of water.

While these incidences occurred on American flights, recent research claimed that an average small plane carrying 100 passengers could have 500 lithium batteries on board considering all the watches, laptops, cameras, e-readers, tablet computers and such, the report said.

According to Geoff Leach, the manager of the CAA’s Dangerous Goods Office, batteries bought from respectable retailers are regulated and safe, as long as they are packed properly. But cheap, copycat batteries bought from dubious sources online could develop a fault with dramatic consequences.

The CAA has been working with its US counterpart, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to produce a series of videos that will eventually go online, showing aviation professionals and the public how to pack batteries safely and what to do if they happen to smoulder or even catch fire.

The Royal Aeronautical Society has also commented on the risks from batteries bought from unreliable sources and is looking to raise awareness across the industry and the public. ‘The risk of future fire-related incidents or accidents has increased due to the proliferation of lithium batteries and other risks,’ it said in its report earlier this year.

While many airlines already train their staff on how to put out lithium battery fires, a ban on the batteries is highly unlikely, the BBC’s report concluded.