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E-cigarette batteries ignite luggage prior to Air Transat flight

Electronic cigarette batteries have caused another baggage fire involving a Canadian airliner, news that comes days after Canadian investigators determined that similar batteries caused an inflight fire in 2018.

The latest fire involved Air Transat flight 443, on an Airbus A321 operating from Cancun to Vancouver on 12 January.

During the baggage loading process in Cancun, "brown smoke could be seen coming" from one piece of luggage, according to a preliminary aviation incident report released by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada. The fire burned through the luggage, it adds.

"The suitcase was taken away from the gate area and sprayed with a portable fire extinguisher," says the report. "It was determined that the fire and smoke was caused by electronic cigarette batteries that were overheating."

Air Transat did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The incident did not cause injuries, but it punctuates a risk the TSB highlighted last week in a report into the cause of a June 2018 fire involving a WestJet Boeing 737-700.

That aircraft was operating WestJet flight 113 from Calgary to Vancouver when the crew received an aft cargo fire warning light while climbing through 9,000ft, the TSB's 18 January report says.

The crew discharged fire extinguishers and safely made an emergency return to Calgary, where ground workers discovered a scorched bag in the cargo hold.

The passenger who owned the bag "inadvertently packed two spare lithium-ion batteries for his e-cigarette", the TSB says. "One battery in the charger experienced a thermal runaway."

The WestJet incident "highlights the hazard that lithium-ion batteries, such as those found in electronic cigarettes, pose to the safety of aircraft when stored in checked baggage," it adds.

Transport Canada in 2016 recommended that e-cigarettes and their batteries be carried only in passenger cabins of commercial aircraft, where crew can better ensure fires are extinguished.

The US Federal Aviation Administration bans electronic cigarettes from being carried in checked baggage.

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