Airport Battery Explosion Could Impact Mobile Electronics

Luggage on conveyor belt, going through the security check and X-ray in an airport.

Nov 15, 2017

Last week a loud, gunshot-like noise at the Orlando International Airport led to panic, expanded security measures, hundreds of delays, and 24 canceled flights. The source of the explosion was traced back to the lithium-ion battery from a camera exploding within a passenger’s bag. The less-than-calm reaction of everyone around the flaming bag led TSA to re-screen the entire airport, including those who had already boarded waiting flights.

This latest incident adds to airline concerns about allowing electronic devices to be stored in checked bags. Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommended that devices larger than a smartphone be banned from checked bags.

According to an FAA report, lithium-ion batteries packed near items including hairspray, dry shampoo, nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol were all capable of starting fires. If the FAA gets its way, all electronics would be required to be transported in carry-on luggage. An FAA ban is already in place for uninstalled lithium-ion batteries inside checked bags. 

According to the FAA, another source of concern stems from a battery which inadvertently comes in contact with metal objects. Keys, coins, or even the contact point on another battery (all of which are typically found in carry-on bags), could have the potential to allow the battery to create an unprotected and unintended electrical circuit, thereby generating enough heat to start a fire.

In addition to devising unique storage options for mobile electronics, the construction of these devices could be coming under greater scrutiny. Travel-friendly batteries and new materials, potentially even those materials used in 3D printing, are possible solutions being considered. How these changes would impact the price, quality and other key factors would all need to be evaluated against the objectives of both of airline safety and passenger convenience.