Cockpit crew representatives are warning that the risk of a serious fire from personal electronic devices is greater than previously anticipated, and that all large devices should be banned from carriage in the aircraft baggage hold.

International pilots’ federation IFALPA says the risk of fire is “not new” but has previously been considered “acceptable”.

But changes in passenger behaviour, and research into thermal runaway, have demonstrated that even a single lithium-ion battery poses a threat when placed in the vicinity of commonly-carried flammable liquids, such as cosmetics.

While researchers once assumed passengers only packed small devices in hold baggage, to reduce the possibility of larger devices being stolen or damaged, recent data “suggests otherwise”, says the association.

“Not only do many [devices] end up in checked luggage, they are also often not powered-off or not protected against inadvertent activation, as required by regulation,” it adds.

“The different modes of laptop computers – sleep, hibernation, on, off – and their lengthy shutdown routines, especially when automatic updates are being installed, can also make passengers erroneously believe that their [device] is depowered.”

Testing had shown that fires in small devices would probably exhaust themselves as a result of a lack of oxygen in a packed suitcase, or would be tackled efficiently by halon suppression systems.

But the combination of a thermal runaway and flammable liquids – rather than common flammable materials such as paper – presents “serious risks” and the consequences are “likely to be catastrophic”, warns the association.

It is stressing that this risk “should not be underestimated” and that devices larger than a mobile phone should be banned from carriage in checked baggage, and only allowed as carry-on items.

Source: Cirium Dashboard