back to article Your gadget batteries endanger planes, says Boeing

Boeing has decided that lithium-ion batteries, the engine-room of the tech gadget boom, are too dangerous to haul around in bulk on cargo planes. The company has warned operators of its aircraft not to carry bulk shipments of batteries until logistics companies design better transport packaging and shipping procedures. …

  1. Charles Manning

    So how do you get your e-goods from one place to another?

    Unfortunately there is no common format (AA/AAA etc) for electronic rechargables, so leaving batteries at home and picking up new at the arrivals airport is not practical. A common format could make some sort of battery lease scheme viable where you can dump batteries at the departure terminal and pick up recharged batteries at arrivals.

    Perhaps the planes can tow the batteries in a trailer glider. If that catches fire it can be jettisoned.

    Likewise, having a clip-in cargo pod that could be jettisoned could work too.

    1. hitmouse

      As the article says, you put them in your cabin baggage.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        I have a problem with that bit also... putting in your carry-on luggage...in the cabin. I'm not sure which is worse, a fire in the cargo hold or in the cabin. I think most pilots and crew fear fire more than anything else in a airplane. Yes, there's a risk with these batteries, but how severe? And if there's that much of risk, is Boeing still using them in their new airliner?

        1. Vic

          I'm not sure which is worse, a fire in the cargo hold or in the cabin

          Cargo hold. It's far more likely to become established before detection.

          Vic.

        2. Orv

          My understanding is the li-ion batteries in the 787 have more extensive safety features than typical consumer batteries, and are supposed to contain failures better. After one flight had a battery fire there was some talk of replacing them with safer, but heavier, NiMH batteries, but I don't know if they went through with that.

    2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      The issue is bulk shipping...

      ...as I thought was made clear by the article.

      So you as a passenger with a small number of batteries, each in a different device, are completely unaffected. The company that wants to air-freight a pallet of tablets is presumably also unaffected, although that might be pushing it.

    3. Jeff Lewis

      How many batteries are slogging with you on a trip???

      You can carry them in your carry-on luggage no problem, BTW. And you probably shouldn't be checking delicate electronics into the hold anyway.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        "... you probably shouldn't be checking delicate electronics into the hold anyway."

        This was going to be my response. Why on Earth would you leave your electronics to the mercy of <del>those honest, careful members of airport staff who take every care to ensure that your luggage arrives undamaged</del> airport baggage handlers??

        1. hitmouse

          Re: "... you probably shouldn't be checking delicate electronics into the hold anyway."

          Actually well-packed electronics in the hold are, in my experience, less likely to be damaged than by exposing them to the fumbling fingers of airport security staff during gate inspections. It's like watching chimps inspect a bag that's fallen out of the sky: sharp objects are smashed against glass, camera lenses are re-packed with caps off. No thanks.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Confused

    "A week ago, the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) issued a separate statement calling for all passengers' Li-ion-powered gadgets to be carried as cabin luggage."

    So a smouldering bag in an overhead locker is somehow safer than a fire in the hold that's equipped with detectors and extinguishers?

    1. Vic

      Re: Confused

      So a smouldering bag in an overhead locker is somehow safer than a fire in the hold that's equipped with detectors and extinguishers?

      Yep. The cabin detectors are far more numerous, and quite a bit more sensitive. And vocal.

      Vic.

    2. Rob

      Re: Confused

      With careful reading of the article it's not hard to imagine that a couple of batteries in a device in a bag in the cabin area is easier to contain than a pallet of batteries in their hundreds all going critical at vary stages maintaining an intense chemical fire for a longer period of time is why the fire suppression system in the hold get's overwhelmed and can't contain the fire.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Confused

        "With careful reading of the article it's not hard to imagine that a couple of batteries in a device in a bag in the cabin area is easier to contain than a pallet of batteries in their hundreds all going critical at vary stages maintaining an intense chemical fire for a longer period of time is why the fire suppression system in the hold get's overwhelmed and can't contain the fire."

        But you're comparing apples with oranges there Rob - so much for your careful reading!

        The BALPA directive recommends *passengers* carry their Li-ion battery devices in the cabin as opposed to the hold. So the correct comparison in this case is a few batteries in the odd suitcase in the hold versus a few batteries in the odd piece of hand luggage. *Not* hand luggage vs. a pallet of batteries in the hold.

        1. Rob

          Re: Confused

          Not really because your comparison doesn't in anyway answer the OP's proposition in which they state, smouldering hand luggage in an overhead locker vs pallet of batteries in the hold. The careful reading of the article meant it provided enough information for me to conclude that the volume of batteries in the hold compared to a few in the over head locker is the difference to why one fire could over whelm the fire suppression system and the other could have been managed safely.

          I know what the BALPA directive says from reading it, but that isn't what is being talked about, so well done, 3 stars, but could do better.

          (P.S. your getting a rant cause someone at work has pissed me off with their stupidity, again!)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Confused @Rob

            "Not really because your comparison doesn't in anyway answer the OP's proposition in which they state, smouldering hand luggage in an overhead locker vs pallet of batteries in the hold."

            Nobody made that proposition except you, Rob.

            PS I was the OP :)

  3. Daedalus Silver badge

    Really?

    Who ships bulk anything by air? Sea and land are way cheaper. Air is for stuff that can't wait.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Air is for stuff that can't wait.

      I've seen in stores quite a few people who can't wait to get their new smartphone, to the point where they actually get aggressive and quite impolite to staff.

      Airfreight can be a question of health security for those poor peons.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      Batteries are used in far more devices than smartphones and cameras - some devices may be critical and used by people who can't wait, and thereby shipped by air, if needed.

  4. x 7

    Years ago I had a mobile phone battery short and overheat while in my pocket....I was just about able to remove the battery before it caught fire, suffering burnt fingers and groin in the process. If the battery had been fixed in the phone it would have gone up in flames. If that had been on a plane, the consequences would have been catastrophic. You can't stop an electrical fire - unless you have an asbestos box at the ready........

    That was just one battery. The hazards of multiple batteries are just horrendous

    1. Vic

      You can't stop an electrical fire

      These guys reckon they can. I've no idea if they're right.

      Vic.

    2. Orv

      Actually, most passenger jets *do* have a fireproof box available. It's called an oven. ;)

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        That is a brilliant mcgyver maneuver, sir !

        Have an upvote !

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "If that had been on a plane"

      Dumping it on a metal tray in the galley is an option. Something that can't be done if it's in the hold setting other things on fire.

  5. Jeff Lewis

    Uh.. I thought it was already illegal to carry LiON batteries over a certain size in checkin luggage.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not illegal. But the airline I traveled on (not one of those listed) wouldn't let me carry any in checkin baggage, and no disconnected LiON battery in carry-on (only in, as part of, a "device"). Although in practice they didn't stop devices or spare device batteries in check-in or carry-on, I wasn't game to carry on the larger disconnected battery I wished to transport.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      I thought it was already illegal to carry LiON batteries

      Sir, I am impressed at your technological advancement. My lion runs off the mains...

      My coat you say? Why it's the one with the extension lead in the pocket.

  6. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    They do have a point

    But still, Boeing complaining about our batteries? Mr Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

  7. Notas Badoff
    WTF?

    Eh?

    "While the FAA can warn operators of the dangers of Li-ion batteries, a law passed in 2012 means it can't regulate battery transport unless international regulators act first."

    Is this unintended consequences of a poorly written law? Or consequences of a law poorly intended? (ie. industry lobbyists)

    Anybody got a reference to this law?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Eh?

      The cynic in me feels its probably a smattering of both

  8. Chronos
    Go

    Temperature

    Quite aside from the detection issue and the auto-suppression systems not working with lithium fires, there's a very good reason that decent branded Li-Ion cells come with warnings not to charge below 0C (32F in old money). If you charge a cell below this temperature, it may precipitate lithium metal onto the anode and can short the cell, which is a Bad Thing. At even lower temperatures I suspect it doesn't even need to be charging for the cell to short.

    Remind me again one of the reasons why stowaways don't survive in the wheel wells/cargo holds of planes?

    Of course, bunging Li-Ion cells into the plane's own control systems outside the controlled environment of the cabin is also a Very Bad Idea, so all of you calling kettle|pot are quite correct.

    1. Florida1920

      Re: Temperature

      Remind me again one of the reasons why stowaways don't survive in the wheel wells/cargo holds of planes?

      Cargo holds are pressurized -- you can put a large pet in its cage in one -- so presumably they're also heated.

      Are Cargo Holds Heated? (StackExchange)

      1. Adam 1

        Re: Temperature

        Stackexchange; is there anything you don't know?

  9. Picky
    Flame

    How do Apple ship Iphones etc?

    Please leave your IPad and IPhone behind ?

  10. msknight

    Fuck this...

    I'll go by cruise ship. The food is better for a start. The beds are nicer, there's live entertainment which is a little more evolved than a baby crying three rows down, and a larger range of alcoholic beverages. Also, enjoying the swimming pool on a liner is a much more civilised affair. Want to go for a swim on the airlines? They hoik you out the door without so much as a parachute.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Fuck this...

      Thw only time I see a cruise ship on the news, Costa Concordia excepted, is when all the passengers have some mass vomiting bug. Never quite wanted to go on one for some reason.

      1. hplasm
        Meh

        Re: Fuck this...

        And the only time planes are in the news is when they are in bits/on fire/missing.

        Horses for courses? (They can carry batteries safely, so that's a possibility...)

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Fuck this...

      Cruise ships ?

      Oh, you mean the floating bacteria incubators with scores of obnoxious malodorants you just can't seem to get away from ? And who are fully ready to trample over you on the way to the fully overstocked free-for-all sickness distributor called a "buffet" ?

      No thanks, I'll pass.

    3. Paul Kinsler Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: more evolved than a baby

      Umm. Babies, as next generation humans, should be /more/ evolved, shouldn't they? :-)

      1. msknight

        Re: more evolved than a baby

        They are ... they shit more, yell louder and their timing for weeing themselves all over your nice clean blouse is nearing absolute comic perfection.

    4. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Fuck this...

      Try travelling to Australia by cruise ship from Blighty, very hard. You might be able to do it with a content crossing of North America in the middle of it, then island hopping across the Pacific in stages. Maybe you have months of unused holiday accumulation your employer has allowed to allow such a venture but most people do not. Cruise ships do not, by and large, travel routes set up for long distance travel of that sort. The age of travel by liner is over, long over.

      I understand some commercial vessels, container ships etc, have cabins available for long distance travellers. But the environs, fare and entertainment are not up to cruise ship standards. The writer AL Kennedy hates flying and uses such means, but she is essentially self employed and can essay the experiences into paid newspaper articles, short stories and the like.

    5. Hollerith 1

      Re: Fuck this...

      I agree -- if you have the time (and you can usually find it), and you don't go for an ultra-fancy cabin, you can spend four days going across the Atlantic in style and disembark refreshed after this little holiday. I like flying, but I love ships.

    6. Bigkahuna456

      Re: Fuck this...

      Well I commute on a weekly basis, are you suggesting people commute via cruise ship?

  11. localzuk

    Cabin baggage? Not really an option with baggage limits!

    So, on an average trip I'll be hauling around a laptop, phone, tablet, digital camera with 3 spare batteries, wireless headphones (with spare battery) and a couple of external batteries (you know, like those that EE lend to their customers). Add all that up and you've used up all the cabin baggage space. So, those things that I actually want with me in the cabin I no longer can carry...

    I think a better solution is to improve fire suppression on planes, and for manufacturers to produce more stable batteries...

  12. Mr_Pitiful

    I had this dilema last week

    Fly-Be actually send you an email after booking pointing out that Li-Ion batteries cannot be carried

    I had booked 15Kg of hold luggage and this was for some spares & a change of clothes.

    When I rang up to enquire about laptop & phones They said this is fine in hand luggage, so I asked if I could take a cordless drill with me. (Also Li-Ion) and they said it would have to be in the hold. I asked for an email confirming this.

    So I arrived at the airport and checked in my bag, it was a tool case with the name and make of the drill & also mentions in large letters Li-Ion. The girl at checkin said sorry we are not supposed to carry them in the hold, but you can't take them as hand luggage, I showed her the email advising that I could take it and she said, 'Oh ok that must be fine then'

    No issues what so ever

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A call for battery Uber?

    I am visiting country X and I want five batteries for a quadcopter Y for the duration of my stay.

    Pick them up charged (or not as required) on arrival and return on departure with use/depreciation costs to be paid.

    Or have new batteries purchased on arrival and percentage refund as they are returned to the vendor on departure. Obviously would be easier if Lipo's could be fitted with a deep discharge indicator.

    There could even be a battery charity that passes used batteries on to those less able to purchase.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Planes interiors should be redesigned for the XXI century

    Besides bulk shipping of batteries, there's a bigger issues, and that is planes interior design didn't change since the '70s, but to shrink spaces to carry more passengers.

    While forty years ago usually travellers had very few valuable items but maybe jewels to carry with them (but some business travellers), today people have far more valuable/fragile items that are too risky to be checked in. For example if I'm on a photo vacation I have easily more than 15,000 euro worth of photo gear, PC, etc with me - items I bought with some sacrifices, and which I can't easily replaces if stolen or damaged. I would happily pay for some on-board storage besides hold luggage which doesn't go through the checked-in one handling - where X-ray scanners are more used to check what luggage to steal items from than to identify security threats.

    This could also be desigend with security sensors and actuators for things like Li-Ion batteries. BUt it would require a redesign, and maybe losing some "precious" seats...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Planes interiors should be redesigned for the XXI century

      People are getting fatter too. Maybe we should allow them to carry on only the same weight in batteries as they have lost this year? fewer lard arses but more storage?

    2. JimBob01

      Re: Planes interiors should be redesigned for the XXI century

      Sounds like you are asking for the “luggage at hand” idea that was supposedly implemented on the Il-86 & L-1011 aircraft

  15. Simon 26
    Holmes

    I have a friend, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, who almost set a passenger jet on fire.

    He was at the airport, waiting in departure when his name was announced over the tannoy. He was met by a number of securitry people and driven out to the plane.

    "Is that your bag , Sir?"

    "It kind of looks like it...err...what happened?"

    They were loading the baggage/refuelling when his *rucksack* fell off the baggage trolley under the wing of the plane. Due to the fact that he was a radio amateur he had a 12 volt small car battery in it, without any protection on the terminals, loose, bouncing around. The battery took exception to being dropped and the bag went up in flames.

    The pilot had some words of advice for my friend and pointed out that with that battery in the hold over the atlantic there would have been little that could have been done to stop a fire.

    My friend retrieved a charred bible from the bag and later told me that Jesus had saved him and his family and indeed everyone on the plane. It was not explained why Jesus didn't give him the good sense to not put something that could spontaneously combust in a bag in the hold of a plane.

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