Feb. 10, 2015

Electronic cigarettes are a potential fire risk in baggage stored in an aircraft’s cargo hold, warns a recently issued FAA Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO). The FAA’s Flight Standards Service recommends that such devices, if allowed by the operator, should be carried in the passenger cabin only, where an incident can be more quickly identified and mitigated.

View the FAA’s SAFO. (PDF)

There have been multiple incidents in recent months of electronic cigarettes causing fires in luggage, either from being left on, or from the battery overheating, according to the FAA. In early January, a checked bag that had, fortunately, missed its flight was found to be on fire in the baggage area at Los Angeles International Airport. In August last year, a checked bag at Boston Logan forced evacuation of a passenger aircraft shortly before it was to take off.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, similar to the batteries used in laptop computers, mobile phones and other small electronic devices, typically power electronic cigarettes. E-cigs also contain a heating element and a liquid mixture – usually propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine and flavorings.

The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority regards electronic cigarettes as portable electronic devices, and advises that spare batteries be individually protected to prevent short circuits – either in the original retail packaging, by placing each battery in a separate plastic bag, or by taping over exposed terminals.

However, the Dangerous Goods Panel of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has noted that PEDs such as phones, watches and cameras do not contain a heating element, as do e-cigs. ICAO issued a cautionary bulletin in December, and indicated that the Dangerous Goods Panel will be addressing the subject at its next meeting in April