FAA Suggests Banning Laptops From Checked Luggage – ExtremeTech
Most travelers prefer to keep expensive electronics like laptops in their carry-on bags, but you may soon be forbidden to check a laptop or similar piece of electronics. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recommended that laptops be banned from checked luggage worldwide. The proposal will be taken up at the United Nations in a few weeks.
It’s not laptops in particular that are worrying the FAA, it’s the batteries inside laptops. These just happen to be the most common devices in suitcases with very large batteries. As we’ve all learned from recent history, there is a great deal of energy stored in a lithium-ion battery. Several Note 7 devices caught fire on planes and caused flights to be diverted or canceled. Laptops can be even more dangerous because of their proportionally larger battery cells. Plus, checked bags also contain flammable products like hairspray that could cause explosions that threaten an entire plane. Laptops that catch fire are likely to be surrounded not only by flammable toiletries, but plenty of clothing that can help the fire grow rapidly.
A recent FAA report examined how modern fire suppression systems would handle such an event. The results were not encouraging. The agency conducted 10 tests replicating real-world conditions. In four of them, potentially explosive items like nail polish remover, dry shampoo, and rubbing alcohol were placed near the rigged laptop. All setups caused fires, but only the dry shampoo was genuinely explosive in a way the fire suppression system couldn’t handle (see below). That one could have engulfed an entire cargo hold in under a minute, according to FAA estimates.
The report concludes that the risk of having laptops in checked luggage is too high. Three cargo jets have been destroyed by battery fires since 2006, and the FAA speculates the only reason the same thing hasn’t happened on passenger jets is simply that most people keep laptops with them in the cabin. All the large airplane manufacturers and European flight safety agencies are in agreement with the conclusions of the paper.
The FAA also offered a few alternatives to a total ban in the report. Passengers could be asked not to pack certain items with laptops or they could be asked to use fire-resistant sleeves, but that’s hard to enforce. Planes with more advanced fire suppression could also have looser rules. Still, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization will look at officially accepting the paper’s conclusions. That wouldn’t change rules overnight, but most participating countries would likely accept the guidance of the UN on this.