Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The mounting risks of lithium-based batteries on aircraft: Qantas Warns of Fire Risk After Device Combusts onboard a Qantas Airways Boeing 747-438 aircraft

Qantas Warns of Fire Risk After Device Combusts on New York Trip

September 28, 2016 — 1:22 AM EDT

Passenger device caught fire after being crushed inside seat

Airline tells all passengers not to move seats if phones lost

Qantas Airways Ltd. is warning all passengers of the risk of phones catching fire on board after a device with a lithium battery was crushed inside a seat and ignited on a flight to New York.

Crew have started to tell customers not to move their seats to hunt for their electronic devices, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said in a report on Wednesday into the June 21 incident. A spokeswoman for Qantas in Sydney said the briefings are now on all flights.

The fire started in the business class on a flight from Los Angeles to New York as crew searched for a passenger’s phone. The device became crushed inside the seating mechanism, immediately hissed and smoked, and then ignited. An orange glow came from the seat and the crew twice used a fire extinguisher before the plane landed safely in New York 40 minutes later, the ATSB said. The report didn’t disclose the brand of the device.

The measures show the mounting risks of lithium-based batteries on aircraft, which have been linked to three accidents on cargo carriers, two of which were fatal. This month, aviation regulators in Asia, Europe and the U.S. advised against turning on or charging Samsung Electronics Co. Note 7 smartphones because the batteries can explode.

A Qantas investigation into the June incident showed it was the first time fire had broken out in 22 similar events, the ATSB report said. The bureau said the Qantas crew reacted quickly and effectively to the emergency.


On 21 June 2016, a Qantas Airways Boeing 747-438 aircraft, registered VH-OJS, operated flight QF11 from Los Angeles, California, United States to New York, New York, United States.

At about 0700 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), a cabin crewmember responded to a request for assistance from a passenger seated in business class seat 3A. The passenger advised the crewmember of a missing personal electronic device (PED) containing a lithium type battery. The crewmember, along with the passenger, searched for the missing PED. While searching, the seat position was moved. As the seat moved, the passenger in the next seat observed the PED within the seat mechanism. The seat was then inadvertently moved, resulting in the PED being crushed. The crushed PED immediately began hissing and emitting smoke. Moments later, the PED ignited. A second crewmember then initiated the basic fire drill.

When the cabin crewmembers arrived at seat 3A, they observed an orange glow emanating from the seat. A crewmember discharged a fire extinguisher into the seat, extinguishing the glow.

Two passengers reported feeling unwell after the event, but it was unclear if this was as a result of the incident. The aircraft seat sustained minor damage.

This incident serves as an excellent example of an effective response to an emergency situation. The cabin crew quickly implemented the basic fire drill procedure. This defined the roles and responsibilities of the responding crew, enabling a rapid and coordinated response to the incident using all available resources. As a result, the incident was quickly and effectively contained. The effective implementation of this procedure also ensured the flight crew were kept informed as the situation developed.

This incident also highlights the hazards of transporting lithium-ion battery powered PEDs aboard aircraft.