A single overheating laptop is capable of bringing down an entire airliner.
That’s according to a shocking new US government study, which found a battery fire in checked luggage is enough to overpower a plane’s fire suppression system.
An aircraft could quickly become engulfed in flames if a laptop fire combined with other flammable materials, such as gas in a deodorant can or cosmetics commonly carried by passengers, experts at the Federal Aviation Administration have warned.
The research highlights the dangers of lithium batteries, which are increasingly used to power everything from handheld gaming gadgets to smartphones.
Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the largest pilots union in North America, is currently debating whether it should recommend that battery-powered items, like laptops or tablets, be banned from luggage stored in the hold of the plane.
The FAA study found that anti-fire halon gas expelled in aeroplane cargo areas in the event of a fire was not enough to extinguish a lithium battery fire.
While the system prevented the fire from spreading to some nearby flammable materials, such as cardboard, it could not stop aerosol cans from exploding.
Tests showed that even when bathed in halon gas, cans adjacent to a laptop fire are still capable of detonating.
‘That could then cause an issue that would compromise the aircraft,’ said Duane Pfund, an official at the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, speaking this week at an aviation safety forum in Washington.
The study, conducted in June 2017, was discussed Wednesday at an annual conference run by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).
Experts highlighted the growing risk posed to flights by lithium batteries.
‘One way or another, we have to deal with these hazards,’ said Scott Schwartz, director of ALPA’s hazardous goods program.
Based on the results of the FAA study, the US government support a call for a United Nations ban on gadgets larger than a smartphone in checked bags.
The effort ultimately fell short, and the FAA has not imposed any new restrictions on what passengers can store in the hold, Mr Pfund said.
Lithium batteries are relatively safe, but have been known to explode if they are faulty or poorly designed.
In April, a laptop spontaneously exploded and burnt down parts of an office in Letchworth, Hertfordshire.
Worker Steve Paffett’s gadget set alight while on charge during the night when he was at home asleep.
The intruder alarm on Mr Paffett’s phone, which is linked to a sensor in his office which was set off by the fire, woke him and he quickly opened his CCTV app.
Footage from the app shows Mr Paffett’s desk ablaze as the flames spread through the room.