Just when it seems that air travel can’t become any more stressful, it turns out that there’s yet another potential danger to worry about.
The U.S. government is now warning that large electronic devices like laptop computers should be banned from checked baggage due to the potential for fire.
Recent tests conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration demonstrated that when a laptop’s lithium ion battery overheats in proximity to an aerosol spray can, a disastrous explosion capable of disabling a plane’s fire suppression system can occur. An unchecked fire could lead to “the loss of an aircraft,” according to the FAA.
The FAA reported these test results to the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is the U.N. agency that establishes global aviation safety standards. The agency will be considering a proposed ban during meetings in Montreal this month.
A total of ten tests were conducted by the FAA using a fully-charged laptop enclosed in a suitcase. The battery was heated to force it into a condition in which the battery temperature continues to rise. In one test, an 8-ounce can of dry shampoo was affixed to the laptop, resulting in immediate combustion. The can exploded within 40 seconds.
The fire progressed so rapidly that the Halon gas fire suppressant was unable to contain it before the deadly explosion occurred. While the explosion might not structurally damage the aircraft, it could damage the cargo compartment. This would allow the Halon gas to escape and the fire to spread uncontained.
Tests with other common consumer products like nail polish remover, hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol also resulted in fires, but no explosions.
Rechargeable lithium batteries are used in any number of devices, from cellphones and laptops to electric cars. While they contain more energy in a smaller package, they can ignite if they are damaged, exposed to excessive heat, overcharged or packed too close together. The resulting fire can burn at up to 1100 degrees Fahrenheit – potentially hot enough to melt the aluminum used to build airplanes.
For more on this threat, please see:
FAA Urges Ban of Laptops in Checked Bags Over Explosion Risk | Popular Mechanics