Travelling on planes is about to get a whole lot less convenient for photographers. Citing the risk of explosion and catastrophic fire, the United States government is advising airlines around the world to ban cameras, laptops, and other electronic devices from checked luggage.
The US Federal Aviation Administration filed a paper with the United Nations International Civilian Aviation Organization urging airline companies to ban these devices from checked luggage because “ [if a] rechargeable lithium-ion battery overheats in close proximity to an aerosol spray can, it can cause an explosion capable of disabling an airliner's fire suppression system. The fire could then rage unchecked” according to the Chicago Tribune.
The International Civilian Aviation Organization helps establish international aviation standards that must be further approved and ratified by member governments to have legal applicability on a per-nation basis.
The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted tests with fully charged lithium ion batteries that were exposed to a heat source, causing a gradual overheating of the unit.
In a test involving a can of aerosol dry shampoo, a permitted item in checked luggage, the fire became difficult to control after the can exploded due to the increasing heat from the laptop.
The fire was so quick to ignite that most commercial aircraft’s anti-fire deterrents, Halon gas fire suppressant systems, would be unable to contain the fire. The explosion might not be strong enough to structurally damage the plane but it could lead to a leak in the luggage compartment that keeps the Halon gas sealed, which would limit its effectiveness in controlling a fire.
Other tests conducted with commonly permitted items resulted in fires but not an explosion.
Because of the results of the tests, the Chicago Tribune says the US-FAA, “recommends that passengers shouldn't be allowed to pack large electronic devices in baggage unless they have specific approval from the airline. The paper says the European Safety Agency, the FAA's counterpart in Europe; Airbus, one of the world's largest makers of passenger airliners; the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Association, and the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Association, which represents aircraft makers, concurred.”
There is no equivalent recommendation for domestic flights but it can be surmised that such guidance is not long in coming.
Lithium ion batteries are popular with electronics manufacturers because they are able to hold large charges in small units, and they are readily rechargeable. If a battery is defective, however, and catches fire, it can be destructive indeed: Fires caused by defective lithium ion batteries can reach temperatures of 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit – the melting point of steel, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Since 2006, the destruction of three aircraft and the deaths of four pilots are partially blamed on fires started by defective lithium ion-powered devices.
As Peta Pixel reports, the United States has banned cameras and other electronic devices in the past, banning cameras from the cabins of passenger aircraft originating from eight different countries located in the Middle East.
Since July 2017, the US Travel Safety Administration (TSA) has required a separate check-in line for passengers with cameras, giving one the impression that the buildup to the ban was gradual. The US government says that this change is not due to any new threat from terrorist groups.
Instead, it is an adjustment of policy that reflects the need to address some security loopholes that the US federal agencies have detected. The US government does acknowledge that terrorists have tried in the past to weaponize such devices according to their intelligence sources.
Acting TSA administrator Huban A. Gowadia said: “It is critical for TSA to constantly enhance and adjust security screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats and keep passengers safe…By separating personal electronic items such as laptops, tablets, e-readers and handheld game consoles for screening, TSA officers can more closely focus on resolving alarms and stopping terror threats.”