lithium-ion fires

May 12, 2017

Concerns rise that extended US laptop cabin ban will cause disaster

Would a universal cabin ban on your laptop or tablet on flights to the US change your decision to fly?

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

A UPS jet severely damaged by an uncontrolled fire despite its onboard control systems

It’s been confirmed that US authorities are in talks with numerous airlines and their respective aviation agencies about a far reaching expansion of current bans on passengers on selected Middle East carriers carrying their own laptops, tablets or other electronic devices in the cabins of flights to American cities.

The potential implications for deterring or inconveniencing Australians flying into US cities are obvious, although at this hour, no official announcements of such additional restrictions have been made.

This report by Bloomberg is typical of those appearing in foreign media overnight.

While the report is focused on US-Europe flights, there are indications such bans will become global, given the ease with which terrorist plots based on the use of very small personal electronic devices could be mounted via connections from Asia or Latin America.

The problem for safety regulators like Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority is that such a ban is totally contrary to the stance that it and similar national aviation regulators, including the FAA in the US (pre-Trump) had taken in banning such lithium-ion battery powered devices from being placed in checked and under floor baggage.

The fundamental issue, explained in recent years and in great detail by carriers like Qantas and Singapore Airlines, is that the proven risks of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in personal and industrial devices catching fire are best dealt with by trained cabin crew rather than cargo-hold fire suppression systems.

Uncontrolled lithium ion battery fires have been implicated in serious incidents and fatal crashes involving freighters.

The risks of the Trump administration bans are discussed factually in this Consumer Reports article.

When the initial and very selective US bans were announced earlier this year the UK followed suit in a highly conditional manner, in effect leaving all of the main ME carriers, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, exempt from the restrictions into UK cities, where of course, immediate connections to American airports could be made on dozens of unbanned airlines.

At a political level, the challenge for safety authorities like CASA and the FAA, is whether or not safety first policies should be overridden by ignorance and cussedness. Do ‘we’ diminish the safety of our air travellers to satisfy the whims of stupid people?

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6 thoughts on “Concerns rise that extended US laptop cabin ban will cause disaster

  1. comet

    The bans are all theatre.

    Has there been a single case where a working laptop or camera – that has been checked by security as a working device – has brought down an airliner?

    The key is to set up a checkpoint at the airport for cameras and laptops, to have them switched on to verify they are functional. Security problem solved.

    1. Dan Dair

      Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment, it’s not entirely accurate.!

      There have been suggestions that a battery-bomb can be created with a ‘plastic’-explosive shaped into a battery, which then has a tiny, high-powered real battery moulded in with the explosive. The battery-bomb fits inside the normal battery casing or shroud & connects into the computer as normal.
      Just switching it on won’t necessarily show anything untoward, but a close-up examination & the latest scanning technology would be very likely to find it.

      I’d be hard-pushed to imagine how putting hundreds of laptops in hundreds of suitcases & mixing them in with possibly hundreds more cases on each international flight, is going to make the job of close-scanning & examining these devices for bombs, either easier or more accurate.?

  2. Dan Dair

    I know it’s the ‘new reality’ of Donald Trump America,
    but this doesn’t make any sense at all……..?????

    If there’s a real issue of explosive devices in laptops, are they really any safer in the hold than in the cabin.?
    If there’s a real issue of explosive devices in laptops, wouldn’t it make more sense to ensure that they’re closely scanned & ‘hand-examined’ at security.?
    How likely is the prospect of an explosive device, that it should override the obvious & FAA-issued warning, about not putting lithium-ion batteries into the hold because of their fire risk.? ( I can imagine Thunderbirds-style baddies cackling amongst themselves that ‘the stupid President has fallen for our little ruse….. any day now those Western infidels will be killed by a massive battery-fire bringing-down their airplane”.?)
    If this is a serious threat, why did the US ‘trail’ this ban by first making it very public for ME airlines, so that terrorists have months to prepare an alternate strategy, before it’s implemented around the world.?

    Answers by email please to;
    [email protected]

    (honest Ben, I’ve googled this web-address & it isn’t in use anywhere.!!)

    1. Rais

      No wonder. You spelt Hillary wrong! 🙂

  3. Rais

    In the very unlikely event that I decided to visit the US during the present strange conditions I’d fly to Canada or Mexico near the border and go to a US border city by bus or hire car. Then fly domestic.

  4. Dan Dair

    I wonder if,
    in the event of a battery-fire in the hold of a US-bound aircraft,
    the airline, crew & passengers (or their surviving families.?) could sue the US government or president for willfully & recklessly disregarding the recommendations of their own safety services.? (which are themselves, widely regarded as the ‘world-standard’ for such advice)

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