March 22, 2007
Pilots Work to Douse In-Flight Battery Fire Risk
ALPA Calls on DOT to Bring Regulations in Line with Threat
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Airline passengers are boarding planes with more portable, battery-powered electronic devices than ever and the resulting fire hazard is a growing safety concern for pilots. The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) today issued a safety alert to its members giving more than 60,000 airline pilots the latest guidance on how to combat in-flight fires caused by batteries.
“A single airline passenger boarding a flight today could easily be carrying a cell phone, a laptop, and a digital camera, along with the batteries needed to run all three devices,” said Mark Rogers, ALPA’s Dangerous Goods Program Director. “When you consider how many batteries might be aboard a plane carrying hundreds of passengers, the safety threat multiplies. ALPA is not seeking to prohibit passengers from carrying portable electronic devices or batteries aboard aircraft, but we do want passengers to know the risk and pilots to know how to react to it.”
Under normal circumstances, the batteries in portable electronic devices pose little danger. But when the batteries are damaged, abused, or have a manufacturing or design defect, they can overheat and cause a fire. Portable electronic devices use a number of different types of batteries, each having its own characteristics and potential fire risk. The ALPA safety alert is intended to address an incident involving any device.
The most powerful batteries employing the highest energy density are lithium ion and lithium metal batteries, both of which have recently been involved in in-flight incidents. Lithium ion batteries are typically rechargeable and found in laptops and cell phones. Lithium metal batteries are typically non-rechargeable and power devices such as digital cameras and flashlights.
While the percentage of batteries involved in incidents is small, recent events have highlighted the risk. For example, a battery or batteries caught fire in the overhead bin of an airliner that had departed from New York’s JFK airport in February 2007. The batteries generated smoke that entered the passenger cabin, but the flight attendants successfully suppressed the fire and the pilots made an uneventful diversion.
“A battery fire can be extremely difficult to extinguish and it may reignite a number of times before being controlled,” continued Rogers. “We’re concerned that battery fires may not be routinely covered in fire fighting training for crewmembers and they need to know that traditional fire fighting equipment may not be effective.”
On a national level, ALPA calls on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to bring bulk cargo shipments of lithium ion batteries fully under the Hazardous Materials Regulations and prescribe testing and packaging standards, quantity limitations, and pilot notification requirements. Additionally, the DOT must ban bulk shipments of lithium metal batteries from all-cargo airliners, as it has from passenger airliners.
Founded in 1931, ALPA represents 60,000 pilots at 40 airlines in the U.S. and Canada. Visit the ALPA website at http://www.alpa.org.
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ALPA CONTACTS: Pete Janhunen, Linda Shotwell, Molly Martin, 703-481-4440