Lithium Battery Fire Leads to Emergency Landing for JetBlue Flight

Posted on 6/9/2017 by Roger Marks

Last week, a San Francisco-bound commercial flight was diverted after taking off from New York’s JFK airport when a lithium battery-powered device caught fire in a passenger’s carry-on bag.

The airline crew responded quickly and put out the fire. While no injuries were reported and the plane was able to make a safe emergency landing in Grand Rapids, the incident underscores the risks lithium batteries pose aboard passenger aircraft.

If you’re in the business of shipping lithium batteries—whether you ship them in equipment, with equipment, or by themselves—you know these risks all too well. Luckily, the airline staff in this instance acted quickly to neutralize the threat.

In recent years, major airlines have expressed growing uncertainty about the safety of these batteries aboard cargo and passenger aircraft. Lithium battery fires have the potential to burn out of controleven overwhelming the fire suppression system aboard modern aircraft, according to Boeing.

It’s not just airlines who are concerned about lithium batteries. In April of this year, a train car hauling lithium batteries outside of Houston, Texas reportedly caught fire. While no injuries were reported, emergency responders were called to extinguish the blaze. 

Watch this short video to find out how lithium batteries become a transportation and workplace hazard: 


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Evolving Lithium Battery Regulations

Much of modern safety policy concerning lithium batteries is rooted in findings that a lithium battery stored in the cargo hold of an airplane poses a greater threat to the safety of a flight than the same battery in the cabin. If a battery ignites in the cabin, the crew has a chance to extinguish the fire promptly, as they did on the San Francisco-bound flight last week.

The same fire, if it starts in the cargo hold, could go unnoticed until it is far too late.  

Batteries In Equipment Pose Less Risk

A second main tenet of lithium battery safety policy is that lithium batteries installed in a device, like a laptop, pose less risk than spare (i.e., “uninstalled”) lithium batteries.

The main threat of lithium batteries is not one battery igniting, but the small fire from that one battery starting a chain reaction that sets off every battery in the shipment. This chain reaction effect is far more likely with shipments of spare batteries, since a flaming battery inside of a laptop must burn through pounds of plastic before it hits another battery.

For this reason, under current US DOT/FAA hazardous materials rules, spare or uninstalled lithium batteries may not be shipped as cargo on passenger aircraft. AirlineCargo-aircraft-only.jpg passengers may check their laptops or carry them aboard the plane (provided the batteries meet certain size limits). Uninstalled lithium batteries, however, are prohibited in checked luggage and must be carried aboard.

Learn the latest rules to ship lithium batteries! Join us for a live, expert-led Shipping Lithium Batteries Webinar for full DG training to satisfy 49 CFR, IATA DGR, and IMDG Code mandates. 

DHS Laptop Ban and Impact on Aviation Safety

In response to threats that terrorist groups may smuggle explosives inside of consumer electronics and board an airplane, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) now prohibits large battery-powered electronics--laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, portable DVD players, and more—as carry-on items on flights originating from ten Middle East and African airports.  See the DHS Fact Sheet here.

If such a ban were to expand to cover all European-originating flights, as DHS has suggested it may, or even all domestic flights in the US, what would be the overall impact on passenger safety? How can the DHS, US DOT, and the international community work together to prioritize the overlapping dangers facing flyers?

US and international authorities may determine that because batteries in equipment pose less risk, “banning” them from the cabin of the airplane—if it assuages a real terror threat—would be advisable or even necessary to ensure passenger safety.  

What do you think? If you have feelings about the DHS “laptop ban” and how it could affect frequent flyers—we want to hear from you on social media! Join us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter where we regularly share breaking news for hazmat shippers, safety professionals, EHS managers, and everyone in between. 

Expert Lithium Battery Safety and Shipping Training

Get full DG training to ship lithium batteries by ground, air, or vessel. Learn the latest rules and be confident you know what it takes to get your lithium battery shipments classified, packaged, marked, labeled, handled and documented properly. Join us for a live, expert-led Shipping Lithium Batteries Webinar on June 27 or check out the Shipping Lithium Batteries Online Course for full DG training you can complete anytime, anywhere. 

Employees who handle lithium batteries in the workplace must know the hazards these batteries pose and how to protect themselves and co-workers. The interactive Lithium Battery Safety Online Course is designed specifically for employees who handle and store lithium-ion or lithium-metal batteries at work.

Tags: DOT, hazmat shipping, lithium batteries

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