A potentially serious incident on an Air China flight on the weekend is a reminder to never pack the lithium batteries commonly found in computers and ‘smart’ phones in  your checked luggage.

It is also a reminder that the Qantas and Virgin Australia rules that permit  lithium battery carriage in checked luggage ought to be abolished and replaced with a ban, because at present no inspections to enforce them take place, with the airlines relying instead on a tick the box declaration in the dangerous goods section of the check-in processes, something which is totally useless.

In the China incident a lithium-ion battery-pack in a passenger’s camera caught fire in an overhead bin in the Airbus A330 while it was flying between Beijing and Shanghai.

The incident ended well, in that the cabin crew searched for the source of a smell of burning, and found the camera just as it burst into flames said in media reports to have been 20 cms high, and bundled it into a toilet where the risk of ALL of the cells in battery pack burning or exploding was removed by following the procedures airlines have for extinguishing lithium fires.

But it might have been a very different and tragic story had the camera batteries experienced what is known as a thermal runaway inside checked luggage stowed in the hold.

Both types of lithium batteries, the li-ion packs that are rechargeable, and the non-rechargeable straight lithium type, pose fire hazards that can be readily handled in a cabin rather than under it.

In this video the US Federal Aviation Administration deals with the lithium-ion battery hazards and the very specific ways in which the risks of igniting the other batteries typically found in such power sources can be reduced by prompt action.


Now, ask yourself. Have you ever had your luggage on a flight in Australia examined for compliance with the lithium battery carriage rules as shown below on the Qantas and Virgin Australia websites? Of course not.

And also ask yourself. Do you ever read the dangerous goods declarations in details? Do you have any idea what the current Qantas and Virgin Australia restrictions on packed and checked lithium batteries mean, or how you would determine if your batteries complied?

The risk of a lithium battery fire in a passenger jet hold is almost entirely avoidable if their carriage in personal luggage is banned. It’s  such a simple thing to do, especially if it is done before rather than after a disaster.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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