23 July 2015

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has asked airlines to advise passengers to carry laptops, phones, tablets, e-books and cameras with lithium batteries safely in the aircraft cabin to cut the risk of fires in the luggage hold.

The pilots’ association is warning that lithium batteries in everyday items are highly flammable and, when they short circuit, have a tendency to burst into high intensity fires, which are difficult to extinguish. This is particularly dangerous when the devices are inaccessible during a flight, in the hold rather than the cabin where a build-up of gases or fire can be more easily tackled.

Passengers usually carry devices with lithium batteries in their hand baggage, but this isn’t required by airlines. Furthermore, BALPA says, a phone, laptop or camera may inadvertently end up in the hold when a passenger is asked at the last minute to put their hand baggage in the hold due to lack of space in the aircraft cabin.

BALPA is encouraging airlines and regulators to look at what steps they could take to ensure devices powered by lithium batteries are only carried in the aircraft cabin. Pilots are also asking for passengers to be provided with advice on how to pack spare batteries safely in their hand baggage.

BALPA says lithium battery fires have caused at least three cargo aircraft crashes and the UN safety regulator has banned a specific type of lithium battery (lithium metal) from being carried as cargo on passenger aircraft. Commenting on the issue, Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of BALPA, said, “Small changes to current good safety practices will help keep us all safe while enabling passengers and pilots to carry the phones, laptops, tablets and e-books they depend upon for work and pleasure. We want to work with airlines and passengers to keep everyday lithium batteries on the aircraft but out of the luggage hold.”