The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is thinking about changing its dangerous goods regulation to ban large electronic devices from checked-in baggage after tests made by United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Fire Safety Branch on potential fire risks from laptops yielded “troubling” findings.
The findings of the FAA’s testing that was conducted during the summer, were included in a brief that was forwarded during a meeting of ICAO’s Dangerous Goods Panel (DGP) in Montreal, Canada.
The test results led to the formulation of language by the DGP that would amend ICAO’s dangerous goods instructions to bar large personal electronic devices from checked baggage.
Exceptions would include “operator approval for unique passenger circumstances that may arise for the carriage of PEDs larger than a cell/smartphone in checked baggage” and the placement of large PEDs in checked baggage with “lithium battery(ies) … removed from the device and stowed in the cabin,” according to the DGP report.
There would be very little wiggle room in other cases, as the FAA and DGP believe crafting detailed rules that would provide passengers or airlines discretion could all too easily lead to a pointless fire risk. Additionally, an airline choosing to prohibit large PEDs from checked baggage could unknowingly carry them in passenger baggage cargo holds if bags originally checked with another airline are transferred on codeshare or interline flights.
“As such, requiring the large PEDs to be carried only in the cabin is the simplest, most effective and most efficient option for addressing this identified safety risk,” the DGP report continued.
The FAA tests were conducted after the “laptop ban” that was handed down back in March by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which for four months kept passengers who were flying nonstop to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa, from carrying large PEDs aboard aircraft.
This resulted in more laptops being stored in the cargo hold, and DGP realized there was little data available on the fire risks large PEDs in checked baggage posed. So FAA’s Fire Safety Branch consented to conduct tests on fully charged laptop computers inside suitcases.
“The suitcases varied in construction and in the density and types of items inside, as well as the construction of the outer case,” the DGP report narrated. “A heater was placed against a lithium ion cell in the battery of a laptop to force it into thermal runaway. For the first five tests, the suitcases were filled with clothes, shoes, etc., but no other currently permitted dangerous goods. In four of those tests, the fire was contained and eventually self-extinguished, and the suitcases were not breached. In one test … the resulting fire burned out of the suitcase and fully consumed it.”
Those test results did not set off alarm bells, but the FAA also conducted a test “of this same scenario” in which “an eight-ounce aerosol can of dry shampoo [was] strapped to the laptop battery and added to the suitcase contents,” the DGP report continued, taking note that “dry shampoo is currently permitted to be carried in checked baggage.”
The test with the shampoo “yielded the most troubling result,” the DGP report specified.
“Fire was observed almost immediately after thermal runaway was initiated. The fire rapidly grew, and within 40 seconds, the aerosol can of shampoo exploded with the resulting fire rapidly consuming the bag and its contents. This test showed that, given the rapid progression of the fire, a Halon fire suppression system cannot dispense Halon quickly enough to reach a sufficient concentration to suppress the fire and prevent the explosion.”
FAA then conducted four more tests wherein the dry shampoo was kept and other items were added to the suitcases, including nail polish remover, hand sanitizer and a bottle of rubbing alcohol.
“Three of those tests resulted in the can or bottle containing the dangerous goods bursting, leading to a large fire,” the DGP report stated. “In only one test was the fire contained within the case.”
The DGP said the tests concluded, “that large PEDs in checked baggage mixed with an aerosol can produce an explosion and fire that the aircraft cargo fire suppression system … may not be able to safely manage. Globally, there are aircraft in the commercial fleet that do not have the same level of cargo fire suppression in the cargo hold, which places passengers in greater jeopardy if a PED catches fire in checked baggage.”