FAA Warns of Dangers of Laptops in Checked Bags

Agency wants them banned from checked baggage on international flights
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 20, 2017 4:28 PM CDT
FAA: Laptops in Checked Bags Could Cause Fire, Explosion
In this April 2014 file image frame grab from video, provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a test at the FAAs technical center in Atlantic City, NJ.   (FAA via AP, File)

For a while laptops weren't allowed in an airplane's cabin on certain flights; could they soon be barred from checked baggage? The US government is urging the world airline community to ban large, personal electronic devices like laptops from checked luggage because of the potential for a catastrophic fire, the AP reports. The FAA said in a paper filed with the International Civil Aviation Organization that its tests show that when a laptop's rechargeable lithium-ion battery overheats in close proximity to an aerosol spray can, it can cause an explosion capable of disabling an airliner's fire suppression system. The fire could then rage unchecked, leading to "the loss of the aircraft," the paper said. The ICAO sets global aviation safety standards, although member countries must still ratify them. The proposed ban is on the agenda of an ICAO panel meeting this week and next.

The FAA has conducted 10 tests involving a fully-charged laptop packed in a suitcase. A heater was placed against the laptop's battery to force it into "thermal runaway," a condition in which the battery's temperature continually rises. In one test, an 8-ounce aerosol can of dry shampoo was strapped to the laptop. There was a fire almost immediately and it grew rapidly. The aerosol can exploded within 40 seconds. The test showed that because of the rapid progression of the fire, Halon gas fire suppressant systems used in airline cargo compartments would be unable to put out the fire before there was an explosion, the FAA said. Similar tests with nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol also resulted in large fires, although no explosions. The FAA's proposed ban applies to international flights, Fortune notes.

(Read more laptops stories.)

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