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Laptops get hot, but can they cause a plane to catch on fire?

Published:

UPS Flight 1307 burns on the tarmac of Philidelpha International Airport 

Washington (DC) - Laptops get hot, but can they cause a plane to catch on fire? The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating whether laptop batteries caused a UPS cargo plane to catch on fire last February. The DC-8 plane with three crew members made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport after a fire broke out in the cargo hold. The fire continued to burn for four hours destroying the plane and most of the UPS packages inside.

Luckily, the crew on board UPS flight 1307 escaped with only minor injuries. In the accident investigation, NTSB officials have concluded that lithium batteries and a flammable liquid were in the cargo hold, but have not yet determined the exact cause of the fire. The investigation is expected to take several more months to complete.

The NTSB held separate public hearings about the fire on July 12 and 13th. The hearings didn't focus on whether the batteries were the cause of the fire, but rather how batteries are made and how they can fail.

FAA official William Wilkening testified that there have been 60 incidents since 1991 that involved batteries catching on fire, smoking or getting hot. According to Wilkening, most of the batteries were lithium or lithium-ion. He added that in the past ten years the FAA has given 49 fines totaling $517,000 for improper packaging of lithium batteries. Harry Webster with the FAA Technical Center testified that lithium-ion batteries could vent flammable liquid and "pose a risk to the cargo compartment."

Entry #102

Comments

1.
justxploringComment by justxploring - July 17, 2006, 4:51 pm
What an interesting (and frightening) article! When I purchased my laptop last summer, I spent a lot of time googling for information on laptop battery function and posted questions on tech boards. There were more opinions on batteries than the old "should I shut down my computer at night?" debate. There's even a batteryuniversity.com! According to Toshiba's instruction manual, I should remove my battery if my laptop is using AC power regularly so it doesn't overcharge, which makes sense, but some techs told me they never take their batteries out and they last for years. Toshiba also recommends a full discharge every month and before storing it. According to everything I know about an Li-ion, it should only be partially discharged and has no "memory effect" like the NiCad type. One site states "Frequent full discharges should be avoided when possible." Maybe I should ask one of the members who posted about rights of felons the other night. They should know a little about battery charges. (groan)

Anyway, thanks for the good read.

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