Australian airlines Qantas and Jetstar have joined a growing list of airlines around the world that have chosen to ban lithium-ion batteries from aircraft cargo holds. Other Aussie carriers are expected to follow suit.
Earlier this month, United Airlines and Delta Airlines announced that they are banning large shipments of the batteries, which have been known to catch fire if they are overheated. Lithium-ion batteries are most commonly used as the power source for iPads and smartphones.
While the ban on the batteries was not the result of regulation, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is currently reviewing its position after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released new research showing the batteries pose a serious fire hazard when shipped in bulk.
In FAA testing, the batteries reached temperatures of nearly 1,100 degrees, only 100 degrees less than the melting point for aluminum. More disturbingly, lithium-ion batteries were found to catch fire and burn violently, potentially rendering aircraft fire suppression systems inadequate.
Lithium-ion batteries are believed to have been either the cause of or a contributor to two different cargo plane fires within the last few years. The pilots in both incidents were killed. Pilot unions in the U.S. have been pressing for uniform regulation for the batteries on both passenger and cargo flights.
Many have theorized that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may have been caused by a large shipment of lithium-ion batteries. According to News Corp Australia, a 221 kg shipment of lithium-ion batteries were in the cargo hold of the ill-fated flight. The batteries were checked by customs officials, but were not security screened before they were loaded into the airliner.
For now, the lithium-ion battery theory remains one of many theories. At present, the official MH370 investigation has failed to shed any new light on the plane’s location.
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