At Least 17 Lithium-Ion Batteries Have Exploded On Planes This Year

Image courtesy of Rachel

Many air travelers fly with multiple devices that use lithium-ion batteries: phones, laptops, tablets, e-readers, smartwatches, fitness band, and more. As these batteries have become so widely used, the number of incidents involving exploding lithium-ion batteries on planes also appears to be on the rise.

This is according to recently released data [PDF] from the Federal Aviation Administration showing that incidents involving lithium batteries stored both in the cargo area and passenger areas of a plane could be increasing.

In just the first four months of 2017, the FAA says it has received reports of 17 incidents in which devices with lithium-ion batteries caught fire, overheated, or smoked in airplanes.

Of these incidents, at least four occurred in the cargo or baggage hold area of the plane.

In a May incident, a box containing laptops fell to the ground, where it began to smoke and “produced a dangerous evolution of heat.”

The box, the FAA notes, continued a laptop computer with a 94 watt-hour lithium-ion battery installed in it.

In April, a ramp employee at Raleigh Durham Airport in North Carolina reported seeing smoke coming from a passenger’s bag. It was discovered to be coming from a lithium-ion battery in a camera.

Another April incident involved a gate checked bag containing rechargeable drill bits. According to the FAA, the drill bits shorted or arched when they came into contact with a wire bound notebook, catching the notebook on fire, while the bag was being loaded.

While the number of incidents involving lithium-ion batteries hasn’t yet surpassed the 31 episodes recorded in 2016, it could be on pace to do so, continuing a recent trend. According to the FAA data there were nine incidents involving the batteries in 2014, and 16 cases in 2015.

However, 2016 could be an outlier, as the year saw a number of recalls of products that included volatile lithium-ion batteries, including the Samsung Galaxy Note7 smartphones and more than 501,000 ”hoverboards” from eight manufacturers.

Related: CPSC: Risk of Fire Is Real, And We Really Need To Modernize The Standards For Lithium-Ion Batteries

In all, the FAA says that since 1991 there have been 160 air or airport incidents involving lithium-ion batteries carried as cargo or baggage. However, the agency notes that the statistics shouldn’t be considered complete list, as it only reflects episodes reported to the agency.

The FAA’s statistics on lithium-ion battery travel issues comes the same week as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he was considering expanding a security-related ban on larger electronic devices.

The current ban affects only a small number of flights coming direct to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and Africa. The Chicago Tribune reports that DHS, which only two weeks ago said it wasn’t going to expand this ban, is now considering adding 71 international airports to that list.

Kelly’s remarks were made during a House panel discussion Wednesday, where he also acknowledged the dangers of lithium-ion batteries.

“There’s a lot of talk out there that lithium batteries are dangerous in and of themselves, that they just burst into flames,” he told the panel, as reported by the Tribune. “So we are also dealing with that as well.”

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