back to article Flaming USB battery halts flight from Taiwan to Singapore

A passenger's USB power bank caught fire as a plane taxied towards the runway on a flight from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Singapore's Changi Airport on Tuesday, causing the airplane to return to its gate. The fire was significant enough to frighten passengers and fill the cabin with smoke. Fuh bahaya betul! Dua …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Luftwaffe or Lufthanse?

    Always wondered how these doddering European carriers like BA , AF , KLM, AirItalia and others survive when it is obvious they don't care about the flying sardines in a can?

    1. The lone lurker

      Re: Luftwaffe or Lufthanse?

      Possibly because they’re more able to absorb losses on the common business routes that were being run on shoestring margins and drove the local operators out.

      RIP the BMI Munich to Southampton route.

      On the other hand, Lufthansa have consistently been improving on the long haul side whereas others like SIA have fallen far.

    2. MarkIDFK

      Re: Luftwaffe or Lufthanse?

      If you mean Alitalia - it's joined the choir invisible. I, for one, welcome our new ITA Airways overlords.

      1. Francis Boyle

        Re: Luftwaffe or Lufthanse?

        Killed by high speed rail no less.

      2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Luftwaffe or Lufthanse?

        Missed an opportunity to rename it "Genitalia"...

  2. localzuk

    Fireproof safe?

    Is it time we have to check anything with a lithium battery in separately, and it get stored in a secure fireproof safe or similar? Then collect it separately at the other end?

    Logistical nightmare, but would be considerably safer.

    1. cyberdemon Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Fireproof safe?

      That would have to be a very big, very heavy safe given the current trend of having non-removable batteries in laptops..

      Plus any fire would be made worse if all the batteries on the plane were kept in the same place. It would have to be a hell of a safe to store 200 odd Dell/HP/MacBooks/etc in such a way that they are not damaged during turbulence, and that the safe could er, safely withstand all 200 of them going up in flames, releasing a lot of toxic gas that has to be handled..

      For those passengers that are "fine", they might not be so happy about having inhaled small quantities of HF gas, which is one of the products of a lithium battery fire. This gas turns into hydroflouric acid on contact with water, such as mucous membranes etc. Not a nice substance. If it were a larger amount from everyone's devices combined, the fumes would probably be fatal in an aircraft cabin, unless the fire safe also had some kind of air filtration system.

      The fuel cost of just having the safes on board would probably run into thousands of gallons per plane per year..

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: Fireproof safe?

        I think it's just easier not to fly.

      2. Crypto Monad Silver badge

        Re: Fireproof safe?

        I think that was roughly the solution for the batteries in the Boeing 787 itself. (And the toxic gas was to be vented to the outside?)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fireproof safe?

        Just put the safe on the bottom of the fuselage - any trace of smoke, open bomb bay doors and jettison contents!!!

        Only half serious... Did fly back from Spain and was asked about batteries in suitcase and to remove it

      4. Kernel

        Re: Fireproof safe?

        "That would have to be a very big, very heavy safe given the current trend of having non-removable batteries in laptops.."

        Especially since it's also going to have to contain the new eco-friendly zero emissions electrically powered plane as well.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Fireproof safe?

      was thinking something like that, but rireproof safes already exist, so maybe put one or two in the baggage area, and just check your potentially flamable devices like luggage

      My idea was to require that such devices be contained within flame-proof bags inside your luggage, or inside special luggage. They are not that expensive and are often sold to people who like building model cars and aircraft with LiPo batteries (for storing the batteries safely).

      Something like THIS maybe?

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Fireproof safe?

        Airlines have 'fire-containment' bags into which burning devices can be stuffed to burn themselves out.

    4. NeilPost

      Re: Fireproof safe?

      A USB port on every seat/media unit would mitigate this.

      Still sometimes pot luck or only newer planes or if they have ripped out old analogue AV at last refurb.

      1. Crypto Monad Silver badge

        Re: Fireproof safe?

        Or it could make it worse (because people will still be carrying their USB power banks, but then will be charging them on the planes)

  3. Pu02

    But what if... they hadn't been able to put it out, or had not been on the ground?

    Good to see they were able to 'put out' the fire enough to evacuate and remove what was left of the cells/device.

    They do not say if the power bank was a cheapie full of gel packs, or cylindrical cells. But if this had been able to burn any faster, it may be a different story (potentially total loss?). If the plane had been in the air, cabin smoke and fire would likely not be manageable, even if it wasn't fully charged.

    Allowing well engineered laptops is bad enough for safety, however they tend to have well-thought out Battery Management Systems, and seldom ignite. Cheap toys and power banks are a different story and are becoming more and more common.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But what if... they hadn't been able to put it out, or had not been on the ground?

      Cheap toys and power banks are a different story and are becoming more and more common.

      The issue is probably coming from the cells. Most of these powerbanks use a chipset to control current which appears to work reasonably well, the variable is the cells used to store the power.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: But what if... they hadn't been able to put it out, or had not been on the ground?

        A few years ago I did a lot of engineering work in that area (LiPo battery management chip etc.). In short LiPo has a high enough energy density to act like a oyrotechnic under the right conditions. If you can manage NOT to damage the thing, they work fine. But they are easily damaged even during the assembly process (right Samsung?) so you have to have not only a reliable case on the device, but a reliable power control chip, circuit board design, and the battery itself.

        Last I looked there were a zillion LiPo battery makers in China, with widely varying levels of quality and charge/discharge rates. Undervolt on battery makes it swell up like a balloon. Some batteries come with protection chips built into them, and others do not. Short out one of the ones without a protection chip and you could end up with a fire in (single digit) seconds.

        Basically, going with "the cheapest battery/solution" in hardware design may in fact be a recipe for flame-broiled luggage.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

    .. may end up being banned from Eurotunnel - all it takes is one fire and the probability is rising that this will happen.

    Also in checked luggage, of course. :)

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

      Re: And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

      What about e-Trucks/e-Lorries, like the newest offering from Tesla?

      of course they're really very coy about battery capacity, weight and whatnots, but if the truck/lorry requires 1000V as its charging current, then the batteries are quite hefty, and it will be real fun and games in trying to extinguish these, especially in a tunnel.

      Full of people, vehicles and other combustible things.

      Rich did an excellent review on the Tesla Truck, which raises more questions than answers :

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkUxo5_R2Q0

      *suicide door = special feature*

    2. Lars Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

      Millions of cars and lorries are transported each year through the tunnel and the time in the tunnel is only about 20 minutes (50km at 160km/h), and as we are moving towards more EVs I don't think they will ban them.

      But time will tell.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

        Following that risk model LPG vehicles should have been fine too, but they're not allowed.

        1. vtcodger Silver badge

          Re: And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

          "Following that risk model LPG vehicles should have been fine too, but they're not allowed."

          As I understand it, Propane is banned in some tunnels and some other underground facilities not because it is flammable, but because it is heavier than air, doesn't go away on its own, and may not be removed by the ventilation system. If a tunnel dips thru a low area as tunnels under rivers or bays are prone to do, how would one get a propane spill out?

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

            Light blue touchpaper and stand well back?

      2. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

        Eurotunnel is no stranger to fires - all of which have been caused by lorries. A friend and I had booked a train for the day after the 2014 one to join a one-off meetup with fellow musicians from across Europe to play at a private session in France. There was no way to book alternative arrangements in time.

      3. NeilPost

        Re: And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

        Many with a tank full of explosive petrol too !!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

          Actually, it's only explosive when it's near empty - or when it leaks and even then you need to have the air/fuel mixture just right. Otherwise you just end up with a fire, not a kaboom. Thankfully.

          Put another way: don't rely on Hollywood to tell you what is explosive. They'd let a mug explode after it falls of a table if they could make it somehow plausible (at least the ones that bother with at least some sense of reality, of course).

    3. entfe001
      Alert

      Re: And this is why Teslas and possibly other EVs ..

      Just an electric scooter may break havoc if it catches fire inside a train. Exactly that happened not long ago inside a train near Barcelona, luckily it happened outside a tunnel by mere minutes. Here is a video (news source in Catalan). For those who ever attended MWC, this was on FGC L8, the line between Pl. Espanya and Fira, although that was further beyond.

      Electric scooters have been banned from all public transport in the Barcelona area due to this incident.

  5. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge
    Mushroom

    mutha* phabbing phablets on a plane!

    plane going down in a ball of fire --->

  6. Mark White

    Speed of a battery in a vacuum...

    Why not just remove all of the oxygen from the hold... not much chance of a fire then.

    It might cause some issues with carrying pets but they won't catch fire...

    =-=-=

    Mark

    1. SloppyJesse

      Re: Speed of a battery in a vacuum...

      > Why not just remove all of the oxygen from the hold... not much chance of a fire then.

      Did you forget the joke icon or are you unaware lithium batteries don't need atmospheric oxygen to burn?..

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Speed of a battery in a vacuum...

      Umm, the reason lithium fires are almost impossible to extinguish is exactly because they don't need oxygen..

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