It’s the danger lurking in an aircraft’s cabin that is causing
sleepless nights for airline bosses: Lithium-ion batteries and their
growing threat to the safety of passenger flights.
Speaking at a media briefing following the IATA annual meeting in
Doha last week, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al-Baker urged the
airline industry to wake up to the threat of faulty lithium batteries on
planes, otherwise, he said, “lives will be lost”.
Al-Baker warned: “Some two months ago, we had a close call in one of
our flights from a very small lithium battery. And we were very
fortunate that it generated enough smoke to alert our pilot. We did an
emergency landing in an airport in Pakistan.”
While large commercial lithium battery loads are carried in cargo
holds, those carried into the cabin by passengers – in their personal
electronic devices, such as mobile phones, laptops and even e-cigarettes
– have been the cause of onboard incidents.
IATA is especially concerned shippers in the air cargo supply chain
pose a risk through undeclared or mis-declared shipments of lithium-ion
“The industry is raising the bar to consistently apply existing
standards and share critical information on rogue shippers,” IATA
director-general Willie Walsh said.
“And there are some areas where the leadership of governments is
critical. Stronger enforcement of existing regulations and the
criminalisation of abuses will send a strong signal to rogue shippers,”
Qatar Airways is so concerned about the fire risk posed by
lithium-ion batteries that it has ordered 400,000 fire resistant
containers to carry high-risk items.
“Most of the fires we have seen in our aircraft were due to
undeclared, badly packed, and sometimes refurbished lithium batteries
being loaded on the aircraft,” Al-Baker said.