PED battery fires to be addressed at IATA event

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Lithium battery fire prevention on board aircraft is among a roster of important safety topics that will be addressed by IATA member airlines at the forthcoming IATA Cabin Operations Safety Conference in Madrid.

While the risk of personal electronic device (PED)-related battery fires on board aircraft became more evident recently after a fire on board an Air France 777 was traced to a crushed Lithium-Polymer-type battery, this issue is not new.

A FAA Safety Alert For Operators (SAFO) – called ‘Fighting Fires Caused By Lithium Type Batteries in Portable Electronic Devices’ – was released back in 2009, and an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) ‘Emergency Response Guidance for Aircraft Incidents involving Dangerous Goods’ is available to airlines.

“While extremely rare, these events have occurred. In 2012 IATA developed some materials to promote the guidelines already highlighted by the FAA and ICAO. A related topic is post-event handling on board and safely managing such incidents after the aircraft lands,” says IATA manager cabin safety Suzanne Acton-Gervais in an interview with Runway Girl Network.

She notes that generally PEDs and their batteries are very safe and are manufactured to a high standard. “The concern comes if they have been damaged or crushed, not repaired at an authorized facility, or if they are counterfeit batteries.”

As previously reported, the BEA (Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la sécurité de l’aviation civile) specifically mentioned these conditions in its report on the latest fire incident aboard the Air France 777 flight, writing:

“An X-ray examination showed that the active elements in the battery had disappeared and the electronic control circuits had been destroyed. The crushing of the battery in the seat mechanism likely caused a short-circuit, leading to an increase in the internal temperature. The exposure of the lithium electrodes to the air caused a fire, and oxygen contributed to the combustion.”

IATA’s Acton-Gervais stresses that there “is a big push to increase passenger education and awareness” about the issue of lithium battery fire prevention. “We are certainly promoting it as ‘best practice’ to do so,” she adds.

For more information, see the IATA Lithium Batteries page here. The issue is also addressed in the IATA Cabin Operations Safety Best Practice Guide (1st Edition).

A separate PED-related session at the conference called ‘Expanding Use of Passenger Portable Electronic Devices’, will focus on the current expansion of PED use on board during taxi, takeoff and landing, and will also look at managing any safety risk.

“IATA is in favor of the global harmonization on this topic. From IATA’s perspective FAA’s decision [to allow the use of PEDs in airplane mode during taxi, take-off and landing] is a welcome one and we hope other countries will adopt it as well. This will help eliminate passenger confusion and also help level the playing field for airlines,” says Acton-Gervais.

The IATA Cabin Operations Safety Conference will take place on 20-22 May in Madrid, and will include active participation from ICAO. Runway Girl Network is proud to be a media sponsor of this event.

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