Story 2015-05-03 898V Aircraft fire-suppression systems can't prevent lithium-ion battery fire and explosions

Aircraft fire-suppression systems can't prevent lithium-ion battery fire and explosions

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story imageInternational aviation officials are trying to quickly come up with safer packaging for cargo shipments of lithium-ion batteries on passenger planes after U.S. testing confirmed that aircraft fire suppression systems put out the initial flames but can't prevent thermal runaway from causing powerful explosions and fires. Such an explosion could blow a hole in a plane and cause depressurization for passengers. If the working group cannot come up with such packaging, officials said they consider it likely that a formal proposal to ban bulk battery shipments from passenger planes will be offered in October. The global battery industry has been lobbying heavily against restrictions on battery shipments. A growing number of airlines have said they will no longer accept bulk battery shipments, including Delta, United, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, British Airways and Cargolux. All three US airlines will continue to accept shipments when the batteries are packed inside or with equipment such as laptops or power tools. The increasing focus on battery safety will put pressure on other airlines to follow suit.

Aviation officials believe lithium-ion batteries contributed to fires that destroyed two Boeing 747 cargo planes, killing all four crew members. Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was also reported to have been carrying 440lb of lithium-ion batteries in its cargo, adding yet another theory to the mystery surrounding its disappearance last year. Shipments are supposed to be limited to no more than a handful of batteries in a single box, under safety standards set by the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization. But a loophole permits many small boxes to be packed into one shipment. It's not unusual for as many as 80,000 batteries to be carried on board a plane.

On Jan. 7, 2013, ground workers discovered smoke and flames coming from an auxiliary power unit lithium-ion battery in a Japan Airlines 787 that was parked at the gate at Boston Logan International Airport after flying from Tokyo. NTSB investigators said Boeing's safety assessment of the 787's lithuim-ion battery was insufficient because Boeing had ruled out cell-to-cell propagation of thermal runaway (which is what occurred in this incident) but did not provide the corresponding analysis and justification in the safety assessment. As a result, the potential for cell-to-cell propagation of thermal runaway was not thoroughly scrutinized by Boeing and FAA engineers, ultimately allowing this safety hazard to go undetected by the certification process. As a result of the investigation, the NTSB made 15 safety recommendations to the FAA, two to Boeing, and one to GS Yuasa.
Reply 5 comments

Time for a change (Score: 1)

by on 2015-05-04 16:22 (#8BZY)

we're getting to the point where cargo of any sort, not just dangerous cargo, is going to simply have to go on a dedicated flight rather than on a flight with passengers. And for that matter, we're not far away from the point where you are going to go the airport, have a full body cavity search, step into a hospital gown, and be tranquilized into a light stupor before the plane takes off. Only way to thwart those terrorists, and as a happy side effect, nearly-comotose people don't need to watch movies, make filthy messes of the bathroom, or demand snacks and drinks. Win-win!

Re: Time for a change (Score: 1)

by on 2015-05-04 23:32 (#8CPX)

If I could be tranquilized, for free, for the entire flight, I might fly more often. The movies, snacks, etc. are just a distraction from how horrible being stuffed like sardines into a flying can for several hours really is.

I've flown first class once, and it was brilliant. If I were rich, I'd take that route every time. Until then, sign me up for the tranquilizers.

Re: Time for a change (Score: 1)

by on 2015-05-06 10:53 (#8G0A)

The trouble with flying business or first class is that you can never forget it. Coach class sucks.

Re: Time for a change (Score: 1)

by on 2015-05-07 13:04 (#8JNH)

I'd say the same thing about traveling by passenger train, instead of flying.

Re: Time for a change (Score: 1)

by on 2015-05-07 19:47 (#8KES)

It probably depends of your country. Where I live, 2nd class is plenty of comfort for me; except in one case: the plane-on-rails, aka TGV, whose nickname is accurate in that its 2nd class really lacks space, as in planes. Well, to be honest, not as much as in planes, but it is the only category of trains for which I consider looking for 1st class tickets (the price difference between classes is generally much smaller than in planes).

But for planes, yes, please just sedate me. Nevertheless, if I have friends who might enjoy the body cavity search, as far as I am concerned, I would rather avoid it.