It’s no secret that lithium-ion batteries can be dangerous if they overheat, and now the FAA is warning that they pose a serious risk for airplanes if checked into baggage. Aircraft cargo sections are equipped with a system designed to put out any fires that start. However, a series of 10 tests conducted by the FAA determined that if a fire happens next to an aerosol can, it could ignite an explosion that happens before the system puts out the fire.
Aerosol cans are common in checked baggage, including things like dry shampoo, hairspray, shaving cream, and body spray. Other flammable items are also often found in checked baggage, such as products containing rubbing alcohol. The FAA tested lithium-ion battery fires near these various substances and found that they can fuel the flame to form large fires.
It is aerosol cans that pose the biggest risk, though, because they can explode severely enough to knock the fire containment system out of operation. If that system goes down, there’s nothing left to put out the fire, which then is left to grow out of control. Temperatures could near the melting point of the aluminum from which aircraft are made.
The FAA explained in a research paper that the fire could, in a worst-case scenario, be enough to completely take down the plane, putting lives both in the air and on the ground at risk. As a result, the FAA wants a global ban on checked consumer gadgets, the only exception being people who get special permission to check their items.
The ban, should airlines implement it, would involve consumer items larger than a smartphone, including things like tablets and laptops. This wouldn’t prevent travelers from bringing these items onto the plane, though; they would simply need to be brought into the plane’s cabin where they could be separated from other luggage should a battery begin to overheat.
Whether the proposed ban will actually be implemented by any country or airline is yet to be seen.