Where there's smoke, there's fire....right?


Kent Faith

October 20, 2015

Earlier this week Twitter and several news agencies reported a lithium battery thermal runaway[1] in a credit card reader on a commercial airliner. This quote was generated by the airline:

“Contrary to what has been reported, there was no fire onboard the aircraft.”

That was true, but I would add that “where there is smoke there is fire” (see this video; https://youtu.be/XfnauDgkR0Y), especially in a lithium battery thermal runaway. The smoke in this instance is just an early warning that there is about to be an explosive situation. The Crew handled the emergency quickly and the airplane diverted without incident.

However there seems to continue to be differing opinions in just what the proper protocol should be for smoke, fire, water or extinguishing agents. The Airline in this case based their procedure on current FAA guidance (SAFO 09013). That protocol calls for Halon followed by non-alcoholic liquid (potentially a passenger beverage).

There is an additional option created by a revision to the FAA AC 120-80A published in December of 2014. Operators can now use Aqueous-based extinguishing agents:

  1. Utilize a halon, halon replacement, or water extinguisher to extinguish the fire and prevent its spread to additional flammable materials.
  2. After extinguishing the fire, douse the device with water, an aqueous-based extinguishing agent, or other nonalcoholic liquids to cool the device and prevent additional battery cells from reaching thermal runaway.

These thermal runaways are relatively new problem and not just with passenger PED’s. Flight crews have credit card readers like the one mentioned. They also have Electronic Note Books and the Electronic Flight Bags (EFB) to manage as well.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_runaway