Sunday, October 22, 2017

Federal Aviation Administration Steps Up Warnings on Lithium-Battery Fire Hazards: Move comes ahead of U.N. organization meeting next week to consider urging airlines to ban laptops in checked bags



The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor
Updated Oct. 21, 2017 9:13 p.m. ET


The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has stepped up warnings about potential major fire hazards for airliners stemming from overheating laptop batteries in checked baggage, even as President Donald Trump’s administration is putting another federal agency in charge of handling the issue internationally.

The moves come as an influential panel of the International Civil Aviation Organization, an arm of the United Nations, meets next week to consider urging airlines world-wide to take further steps to avoid transporting laptops, along with other electronic devices larger than cellphones, in checked luggage.

The latest laboratory tests conducted by FAA experts found that in extreme circumstances, even a single seriously overheating laptop—packed inside a checked bag next to common but flammable consumer products including nail polish or aerosol sprays—can produce a blaze or explosion capable of disabling typical fire-suppression systems in cargo holds of passenger planes. As a result, safety experts have concluded it is safer to keep laptops in cabins, where a blaze can be identified quickly and dealt with more effectively.

The conclusions are supported by pilot unions, European air-safety regulators and certain aviation trade associations. But a final decision is likely months away and could face controversy among various industry groups and national regulatory agencies.

Even if the panel votes to toughen current ICAO language by recommending standards to keep all laptops out of checked baggage, the organization’s top policy group would have to weigh in to settle the debate. In such circumstances, airlines and national regulators usually are given a transition period that can extend for years to implement any changes, and ICAO has no direct enforcement authority.

The likelihood of a catastrophic fire sparked by a laptop in checked baggage is relatively low, according to FAA officials and safety experts, since passengers tend to keep such devices with them in the cabin.

In any event, the impact on domestic flights in the U.S. is likely to be minimal, since carriers already warn passengers against packing laptops containing batteries in checked bags.

But the fate of tougher global safety standards in the longer term is less clear, partly because the Transportation Department has opted to remove the FAA as the lead agency representing the U.S. on battery-safety issues pending at ICAO. Instead, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has switched that role to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an agency that historically has been less aggressive than the FAA in combating lithium-battery hazards.

A statement released by Ms. Chao’s department said the pipeline agency would collaborate with the FAA, according to the Associated Press.

But Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, last week sharply criticized the decision to reduce the FAA’s authority over global battery issues. In a letter to Ms. Chao, the legislator called the decision “inexplicable,” warning it could put lives of passengers and crew at risk. Mr. DeFazio vowed to introduce a bill permanently designating Federal Aviation Administration as the lead agency representing the U.S. before ICAO.

Over the past few years, the Federal Aviation Administration has performed the most closely watched research on lithium-battery fires and has been an advocate of tougher packaging and shipping procedures for power cells carried in the bellies of cargo carriers. The agency shift runs counter to normal practice, according to industry and safety experts, because most other countries participating in the ICAO panel dealing with fire hazards associated with lithium batteries have appointed a civil aviation official to represent them.

Next week’s deliberations cap months of roller-coaster actions sparked by antiterrorism and safety issues pertaining to lithium-battery hazards. Citing concerns about explosives potentially hidden inside certain electronic devices, in the spring, U.S. security officials temporarily barred laptops from the cabins of certain foreign carriers flying to the U.S. from the Middle East and Africa. The ban was subsequently lifted, but not before Federal Aviation Administration experts expressed their safety concerns about putting lithium batteries in cargo holds.

The most recent Federal Aviation Administration warnings highlight that a fire caused by a lithium battery in checked luggage can flare up in less than a minute. In light of such dangers, a report submitted to the ICAO panel concluded that keeping all laptops out of checked bags “is the simplest, most effective and most efficient option for addressing the identified safety risk.”

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.wsj.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anybody that carries their laptop in checked baggage is a fool. Airports baggage handlers are frequently crooks and thugs.

I remember when I was a smoker packing four cartons of cigs in my checked luggage after a cruise. Much to my chagrin, when I got home there were only two cartons in my bag. I complained to the TSA about this and never heard back. Months later, I read online that something like a dozen TSA had been arrested in Miami for stealing stuff from luggage.