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Can your laptop pose a fire hazard in checked baggage?

There may be a ban on laptops and tablets in checked baggage if civil aviation authorities agree with a proposal which claims that personal electronic devices pose a fire hazard in the cargo hold.

travel Updated: Oct 24, 2017 12:15 IST
A report recommends banning laptops and tablets from checked baggage.
A report recommends banning laptops and tablets from checked baggage.(AFP)

A ban on laptops and tablets in checked baggage could be coming down the pipeline if civil aviation authorities agree with a proposal which claims that personal electronic devices pose a fire hazard in the cargo hold.

At a meeting organised by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on dangerous goods in Montreal this week, the world airline community will be presented with the findings of a report from the US Federal Aviation Administration, which makes a case for restricting personal electronic devices to carry-on baggage.

The proposal marks a 180-degree turn from a recent ban on laptops, tablets, cameras and portable DVD players in carry-on bags for flights arriving to the US from destinations in the Middle East. The ban was implemented as a security measure earlier this year by the Department of Homeland Security.

For the report, the FAA conducted a series of tests packing a fully charged laptop computer in a suitcase under different scenarios — varying the type of suitcase used and the contents of the luggage. A heater was placed against the lithium ion battery of the laptop, forcing it into “thermal runaway” — or to catch fire and explode.

In one of the tests, researchers packed a can of dry shampoo alongside the laptop and applied a heater to the contents of the suitcase. A fire ensued almost immediately and within 40 seconds the can exploded, consuming the bag and its contents, researchers said. Similar tests were conducted with a bottle of nail polish remover, hand sanitiser, and a bottle of 70% ethyl rubbing alcohol. Three of those tests likewise resulted in a large fire.

“The outcome of the testing indicates that large PEDs in checked baggage mixed with an aerosol can produce an explosion and fire that the aircraft cargo fire suppression system in Class C cargo compartments may not be able to safely manage,” reads the report.

“Globally, there are aircrafts in the commercial fleet that do not have the same level of cargo fire suppression in the cargo hold, which places passengers in greater jeopardy if a PED catches fire in checked baggage.” The ICAO meeting of the dangerous goods panel wraps up in Montreal this week.

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