FAA Issues New Advisory on In-cabin Lithium Fires

 - July 2, 2009, 11:42 AM

The FAA yesterday issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) regarding procedures for fighting fires caused by lithium batteries in portable electronic devices. Both the disposable and the rechargeable type batteries are capable of ignition and subsequent explosion, which can cause the release of either molten burning lithium or a flammable electrolyte. Once one cell in a battery overheats, it can cause a chain reaction, and the resulting fire can flare repeatedly as each cell ruptures and releases its contents. Based on testing by the FAA’s Fire Safety Branch, the agency recommends operators use a Halon, Halon replacement or water extinguisher to extinguish and contain the fire. After the fire is extinguished, the device should be doused with water or other nonalcoholic liquids to cool it and prevent additional battery cells from overheating. The alert cautions operators not to cover the device or use ice to cool it, as those actions may insulate the device, increasing the threat that additional battery cells will overheat. In related news, the agency has also released a new video addressing the dangers of in-flight fires and demonstrating how to combat them effectively.