Are we increasing the danger in aircraft cabins?


Kent Faith

February 19, 2016

This week I read yet another news article describing the catastrophic dangers of lithium batteries in cargo.[1]    

The article mentioned these new notices and recommendations from the FAA and NTSB:

  • 1. NTSB A-16-001 and -002[2]  
  • 2. FAA Notice N 8900.344[3]      
  • 3. FAA SAFO16001[4]  

The last link on that list has an interesting warning:

NOTE: This SAFO only addresses lithium batteries not contained in or packed with equipment when offered for cargo and is not intended to cover the provisions concerning passengers and crew.    

So my question is, when are we going to address the threat to the passengers and crew? The bad battery won’t know if it is in a box, in a checked bag,         or in the cabin.    

As the airlines continue to try and address the new recommendations many of them are now requiring that extra batteries once checked in luggage be         brought into the cabin to “monitor”.

In 2013 the Royal Aeronautical Society said this:

On a typical flight, a single aisle jet carrying 100 passengers could have over 500 Lithium batteries on board. These devices are not tested or certified nor are they necessarily maintained to manufacture’s recommendations. Replacement batteries from questionable sources (‘grey’ market) can be contained within devices.    

We now have a number of batteries in the cabin, both rechargeable and non-rechargeable. That number is more than 500 and growing.

In the all-out zest to protect the airplanes from lithium batteries in cargo are we unwillingly increasing the dangers in the cabin?    

What are we doing about a thermal runaway in the cabin? It might surprise you that in the FAA SAFO 09013, the protocol calls for Halon (won’t extinguish         a lithium fire) followed by a “non-alcoholic liquid” or in laymen’s terms, a passenger beverage[1].

It is not feasible to restrict the use of personal electronic devices in the cabin of a commercial airplane. It is however possible to protect against         the threat of a lithium battery fire and certainly much safer than a can of soda.

My proposal is that as regulatory entities make suggestions for air carriers to develop policies and procedures for safety mitigation relating to the         carriage of lithium batteries that they include the threat to the cabin.

[1] FAA AC 120-80a