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Cargo hold not safest place to store electronic devices – US FAA

As airlines and passengers alike adapt to new and more stringent security measures when travelling to the United States, the Department of Transportation is contemplating where the safest place to store laptops, tablets and other devices powered by lithium-ion batteries on an airplane is.

The cargo hold is certainly not the answer said the US Federal Aviation Administration as the agency’s Office of Hazardous Materials Safety claimed that portable electronic devices pose less of a fire hazard when brought on-board rather than being packed into checked bags.

In a notice the agency released, the FAA said, “devices containing lithium metal or lithium ion batteries (laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.) should be transported in carry-on baggage and not placed in checked baggage.”

The main reason laptops are more secure in the passenger cabin is because the flight crew or passengers at least have a chance to put out a fire if the batteries start one in an electronic device. That conclusion is not a pronouncement halting airlines from allowing passengers to put their electronics in checked bags.

In fact, the agency stated if devices are packed in bags that will go in the cargo hold of flights, they “should be completely powered down to the OFF position (they should not be left in sleep mode), protected from accidental activation, and packed so they are protected from damage.

The advisory supports a complaint issued by numerous corners in the airline industry after the Department of Homeland Security mandated tighter security rules for certain flights from the Middle East to the U.S. earlier this year. Those rules, which have since been revised, kept passengers from keeping electronic devices larger than a cell phone in their carry-on bags. During that period, Homeland Security was acting on intelligence that implied terrorists may try to conceal an explosive in an electronic device or use several devices to detonate a bomb.

As soon as that rule went into effect in March, safety advocates harped on the potential risk of lithium-ion batteries burning in a checked bag and starting a larger, irrepressible fire in the cargo hold that could prove disastrous for a commercial airplane.

That concern drove the Fire Safety Branch of the FAA to conduct tests looking at the possible dangers of putting laptop computers and other electronic devices in checked bags.

Its conclusion was clear: large electronics are safer in the passenger cabin than in the cargo hold.

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