Three Lithium Battery Fires Raise Concerns About Flight Safety
Three recent aircraft fires have raised concerns for regulators and workers alike on the safety of lithium batteries. These incidents underscore the prevalence of lithium battery malfunctions as aviation regulators continue debating how to prevent further harm to customers, airline employees, and cargo.
Fire on Freighter Aircraft Possibly Linked to Lithium Battery Cargo
In the early morning hours on July 22, an Ethiopian Airlines freighter aircraft was being loaded with cargo at Pudong Shanghai Airport when the aircraft caught fire. The plane was scheduled to fly cargo from Shanghai to Sao Paulo-Santiago via Addis Ababa.
Ethiopian Airlines has cooperated with all emergency personnel to put the fire out and no ground staff or flying crew were injured. An unidentified source at the site has said three pallets of lithium batteries were listed on the manifest, raising questions as to whether this blaze was caused by the lithium batteries. The source of the fire is still under investigation.
Phone Catches Fire in Reclined Passenger Seat
About eight hours into a flight from London Gatwick to Tampa International on February 13, a cellphone was lodged in a reclined passenger’s seat. When the passenger attempted to retrieve it, the phone’s battery broke, overheated, and burst into flame.
As flight attendants contained the smoke and fire, the aircraft was diverted to Bermuda International Airport. Passengers were evacuated and the plane was quickly inspected while emergency fire personnel were on standby.
The British Airways flight was able to resume shortly thereafter, landing in Tampa about two and a half hours behind schedule.
Portable Charger Explodes in Passenger’s Luggage
On February 27, a United Airbus flight bound for the Bahamas from Newark International had to make an emergency landing after a passenger’s portable laptop charger caught fire. The fire was quickly contained to the passenger’s bag. Flight attendants placed the bag in a fire-retardant case until the aircraft could be diverted to Daytona Beach.
Airport officials noted that there were no injuries or damages. All passengers were able to remain on board while personnel completed their inspection. After inspections by safety and emergency personnel were complete, the plane was able to re-depart and land in Nassau safely.
Some MacBooks Prohibited on US Flights, Says FAA
In August 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned some 15-inch MacBook Pros from US flights due to concerns over faulty lithium batteries.
Apple issued a voluntary recall and replacement program for these models on June 20, 2019 due to the battery’s potential to overheat and pose a safety risk. The recall only affects 15-inch MacBook Pro units sold between September 2015 and February 2017 that can be identified by the product serial number.
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