Lithium-Ion Batteries Will (Probably Not) Kill Us All, But…

The latest peril lurking in your friendly skies: lithium-ion batteries. They’re in our cellphones, laptops and a wide variety of other electronic devices – devices that we’re already tasked to turn off at the beginning of a flight for fear the aircraft’s autopilot may pull a HAL 9000 at 36,000 feet.

USA Today reports that these ubiquitous, rechargeable and sometimes impossible to remove batteries are a fairly new and serious concern for airlines. A concern that has nothing to do with possibly causing navigational woes:

FAA data show that from March 20, 1991, through Aug. 3, 2010, batteries and battery-powered devices were involved in 113 incidents with “smoke, fire, extreme heat or explosion” on passenger and cargo planes. The data are for lithium and non-lithium batteries and are not a complete list of such incidents, the agency says.

In January, the Transportation Department proposed stricter rules for companies that ship lithium batteries in cargo holds. “The frequency of incidents, combined with the difficulty in extinguishing lithium-battery fires, warrants taking strong action,” Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said of the Transportation Department’s proposal.

An overheated lithium battery can cause a small explosion and the fire may not always be all that easy to put out. There is, however, no limit on how many of these a single passenger can carry on a given flight. Last June an American Airlines flight crew took 58 devices using these batteries from one passenger on a flight from New York to Buenos Aires.

If restrictions are passed on electronic devices using these batteries requiring their removal before boarding a flight, users of Apple devices in particular are going to find themselves with a serious problem, as many of the smaller Apple products require the battery be removed at an Apple store. Lithium-Ion Batteries Will (Probably Not) Kill Us All, But…