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December 10, 2010
Lithium batteries are used in aircraft in a number of devices. The use in portable electronic devices is probably the most frequent, but they are also installed to provide power for various aircraft systems. When handled improperly, lithium batteries can overheat and ignite, causing fires that are hard to extinguish.
Lithium Batteries in Portable Electronic Devices
As portable electronic devices (PEDs), such as smart phones and laptops continue to increase in popularity, passengers and crewmembers are more frequently bringing these devices on board aircraft. Passengers routinely want to use these devices for the duration of the flight, but one charge or one set of batteries will not always permit that to happen, so spares are brought along. Note that batteries properly installed in the PEDs pose less of a fire risk as long as they are recharged properly.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations for Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) permit the carriage of lithium and lithium-ion batteries in consumer electronic devices. Packing of spare batteries is an important consideration. The DOT requires the following with respect to lithium and lithium-ion batteries:
- Spare batteries must be protected from damage and short circuit. This can be accomplished by:
- placing the spare batteries in their original retail packaging;
- putting tape over the terminals of the battery to insulate them; or
- placing each battery in a separate plastic or protective pouch.
- Spare batteries may not be carried in checked baggage or in baggage areas not accessible during flight.
- Loose batteries not protected from short circuit are not permitted to be carried in any part of the aircraft.
The FAA has issued a safety alert for operators (SAFO) providing guidance on how to safely extinguish fires caused by disposable lithium and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The guidance refers to the need not only to extinguish a fire, but also to cool the batteries to prevent thermal runaway and re-ignition.
Lithium Batteries in Installed Aircraft Systems
There are also considerations when it comes to the installation of lithium batteries in installed systems on aircraft. The FAA issued a proposed policy statement that applies to the installation of permanently installed lithium batteries on transport category aircraft.