AviationLithium batteries need better regulation on planes, airline bosses urge.

Explosive warning: Why airlines are concerned about this carry-on item

Where there’s smoke in the cabin, there could be a lithium-ion fire.
Where there’s smoke in the cabin, there could be a lithium-ion fire. Photo Credit: Black Kira/iStock/GettyImages.

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 batteries.

“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,” Walsh added.

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.

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