Lithium Batteries Could Spark ‘Catastrophic’ Plane Fires, FAA Warns

Fire suppression systems are "incapable" of controlling the blaze.

ByABC News
February 9, 2016, 4:26 PM

— -- Lithium ion batteries power our phones, laptops, and cameras –- but if handled improperly, they also have the power to potentially bring down a plane.

Following a series of disquieting tests, the FAA today issued a safety alert warning airlines that transporting these batteries as cargo carries the “risk of a catastrophic hull loss.”

Lithium ion battery fires can lead to a “catastrophic explosion,” which fires suppression systems are “incapable of preventing,” the FAA said in the alert.

Such fires downed Boeing 747s in Dubai and South Korea in 2010 and 2011, killing all crew members (no passengers were on board). Then, a series of battery fires in the batteries of Boeing 787s prompted the FAA to ground the entire Dreamliner fleet in 2013.

As recently as late last year, a smoking lithium ion battery in a flight attendant’s credit card reader prompted an emergency landing in Buffalo.

The FAA is now urging airlines to conduct safety assessments and reevaluate their lithium ion battery protocols.

Most commercial passenger airlines voluntarily prohibit rechargeable lithium ion batteries, and just last month, a UN panel recommended banning rechargeable lithium battery cargo from all passenger jets.

However, a recent FAA funding bill failed to ban shipping such batteries by air.