FAA safety alert: Your batteries could cause ‘catastrophic hull loss’

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into whether or not the batteries in your luggage could cause “catastrophic hull loss.” 

The FAA on Tuesday released a Safety Alert for Operators strongly recommending airline operators to look into the risks of lithium-ion batteries being stored in both passenger and cargo airlines.

Any changes made due to these concerns will not apply to your personal or carry-on devices: cell phones, laptops, or anything that has a battery contained or packed within the unit. FAA regulations state that all passenger-sized lithium-ion batteries can be carried onboard as long as they do not exceed 160 watts. 

What the FAA is concerned about are lithium-ion and lithium-metal batteries roaming around luggage or stored in boxes that could potentially face thermal runaway—when an increase in temperature leaks flammable gases that can cause a chain reaction with nearby batteries and potentially spread into passenger-occupied areas of a plane.

To make matters worse, the current design of the fire suppression system in a class C cargo compartment is “incapable of preventing such an explosion.”

Lithium-ion batteries are already considered a class 9 hazardous material and recent “hoverboard” fires are a very real illustration of what can happen when something goes wrong with the batteries that are charging the majority of the devices we put in our pockets, on our laps, or hang around our necks. 

Here are a few of the recommendations the FAA gives to operators when considering the transport of lithium-ion batteries:

Evaluation of the fire protection features of each model of aircraft they operate; 

The operator’s specific lithium battery acceptance requirements for packaging, state of charge, and any other limitations placed upon the shipper;

The chemical composition of the batteries and cells; 

Location of batteries in the cargo compartment, including: Proximity to other batteries; 

A full list can be found on the FAA’s SAFO page.

H/T CNET Photo via Aero Icarus/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)