Lithium battery fire sparks Mayday

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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its report into a lithium battery fire that ignited in the cargo hold of a Boeing 737 moments before passengers boarded a flight from Melbourne to Fiji.

As the captain of the flight was conducting an external inspection of the aircraft, a ground engineer alerted him to white smoke coming from the cargo hold. The captain instructed the first officer, who was in the cockpit doing pre-flight checks, to activate the fire suppression system, evacuate the aircraft and declare Mayday.

As Flight Safety Australia reported in June, the fire was confined to one case, which contained more than eight lithium batteries. The fire is believed to have ignited when one of the batteries short-circuited as the case was being loaded onto the aircraft.

Revealingly, the ATSB report said the ‘passenger stated during check-in that there were no batteries in the checked bags, but declared eight lithium batteries being carried as hand luggage’.

Battery equipment damaged from the fire
Battery equipment damaged in the fire

After the fire, the passenger, who was a certified remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) operator in Australia, was located and asked whether there were any batteries in his checked luggage. The passenger replied that there were none. Further inspection of the passenger’s checked luggage by the Australian Federal Police revealed ‘19 batteries intact and additional 6-8 batteries that had been destroyed by fire’.

As a result of the incident, Fiji Airways now asks every passenger whether their baggage contains lithium batteries and is checking that batteries are carried in accordance with regulations. The airline also says that any passenger carrying undeclared lithium batteries that are discovered before departure will be offloaded and refused carriage.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is producing an educational video to help the public travel safely with lithium batteries and has also developed the Can I pack that? – Dangerous Goods App to help travellers understand the important safety restrictions around various dangerous goods, including lithium batteries.

For more information you can download the app via the link above, or visit CASA’s lithium battery web page for instructions on the different battery classifications and how to pack them safely.

24 COMMENTS

  1. What about capacitators that can store a charge e.g. used by Mazda in cars as an alternative to batteries. Question for passengers should be any stored energy device – chemical (thermal e.g. flare, heat pack, magnesium, sodium – note some chemicals can be inert by themselves but mixed with another product – some are household goods can generate heat), electrical, mechanical, compressed gases ,

    Does someone vet this before posting ??

  2. […] However businesses and government must start planning now for collection and processing of this future waste stream, to ensure pathways are in place for reuse and recycling of what is a hazardous, yet valuable, waste. In particular, as lithium batteries rise past 50,000 tonnes per year in the waste stream by 2030, the need rises for developing efficient sorting systems to isolate these batteries and moderate the risk of fire. […]

  3. […] However businesses and government must start planning now for collection and processing of this future waste stream, to ensure pathways are in place for reuse and recycling of what is a hazardous, yet valuable, waste. In particular, as lithium batteries rise past 50,000 tonnes per year in the waste stream by 2030, the need rises for developing efficient sorting systems to isolate these batteries and moderate the risk of fire. […]

  4. […] However businesses and government must start planning now for collection and processing of this future waste stream, to ensure pathways are in place for reuse and recycling of what is a hazardous, yet valuable, waste. In particular, as lithium batteries rise past 50,000 tonnes per year in the waste stream by 2030, the need rises for developing efficient sorting systems to isolate these batteries and moderate the risk of fire. […]

  5. […] However businesses and government must start planning now for collection and processing of this future waste stream, to ensure pathways are in place for reuse and recycling of what is a hazardous, yet valuable, waste. In particular, as lithium batteries rise past 50,000 tonnes per year in the waste stream by 2030, the need rises for developing efficient sorting systems to isolate these batteries and moderate the risk of fire. […]

  6. […] However businesses and government must start planning now for collection and processing of this future waste stream, to ensure pathways are in place for reuse and recycling of what is a hazardous, yet valuable, waste. In particular, as lithium batteries rise past 50,000 tonnes per year in the waste stream by 2030, the need rises for developing efficient sorting systems to isolate these batteries and moderate the risk of fire. […]

  7. […] However businesses and government must start planning now for collection and processing of this future waste stream, to ensure pathways are in place for reuse and recycling of what is a hazardous, yet valuable, waste. In particular, as lithium batteries rise past 50,000 tonnes per year in the waste stream by 2030, the need rises for developing efficient sorting systems to isolate these batteries and moderate the risk of fire. […]

  8. […] Passengers packing these items into their luggage remain a constant threat to aviation safety despite widespread warnings. With batteries, all spare batteries not contained within equipment must be in carry-on luggage with their terminals protected. There have been several examples of lithium batteries short-circuiting in checked-in luggage causing cargo fires, including a 2014 flight from Melbourne to Fiji. […]

  9. I saw the result of a 18650 lithium cell exploding in my son’s workshop in Ecuador when I was there. It had been sitting on the shelf untouched for a month or more. Luckily there was no ensuing fire.
    I later had a fire in my workshop in Australia which burnt out the interior wall lining and roof before I was able to extinguish it with two full size extinguishers and a fire hose. It was caused by another 18650 cell stored with numerous others on a wooden shelf. Now I keep all lithium batteries in a closed steel drawer type of toolbox and have re-lined the workshop nearly airtight with plaster wall sheeting. All the shelving is now also made of steel. None of my LIPO batteries have caught fire though, just the lithium iron cells.
    The more energy stored in these batteries in phones, laptops, etc., makes them increasingly dangerous.

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