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E-Cigarettes a Fire Danger in Checked Airline Bags

Published on Jan 25 2015 2:46 PM in General Industry

E-Cigarettes a Fire Danger in Checked Airline Bags

Airline passengers should add electronic cigarettes to the list of items that can’t be stored in their checked luggage.

The US Federal Aviation Administration, which already bans flammables and explosives in checked baggage, is now warning airlines about the fire risk from e-cigarettes. While the safety alert issued Friday is voluntary, typically most airlines follow such guidance.

E-cigarettes mainly use lithium cells to heat liquid nicotine into a vapor, and the FAA advisory is the latest to point out the dangers of such battery-powered devices. It cited two recent fires started by e-cigarettes, including one in the cargo hold of a plane at Boston’s Logan Airport in August and an incident earlier this month where luggage sitting in the baggage area at Los Angeles International Airport burst into flames.

“These incidents and several others occurring outside of air transportation have shown that e-cigarettes can overheat and cause fires when the heating element is accidentally activated or left on,” the agency said in the alert.

The FAA stopped short of banning the items in carry-on luggage, saying that if a fire were to break out in the passenger cabin, it would be spotted and extinguished faster than if it were in the cargo hold.

The action follows a 10 Dec. warning on e-cigarettes by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organisation. Several incidents have been reported and the ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel is considering possible action, according to its warning.

Booming Market

The Air Line Pilots Association, the largest flight-crew union in North America, said in an e-mailed statement the advisory didn’t go far enough. All lithium batteries should be banned from airline cargo holds, ALPA said.

“ALPA has a long standing vocal opposition to the carriage of lithium metal batteries, such as those contained in e-cigarettes, in the aircraft cargo hold,” it said.

E-cigarettes are a relatively new phenomenon, ballooning from one manufacturer in 2005 to a $3 billion industry with more than 460 brands by 2013, according to the World Health Organisation. Large tobacco companies have begun to embrace the niche product, which has been marketed as a safer and more tolerable way to smoke.

The US and European Union are the biggest markets.

Fire Incidents

The FAA has logged at least 47 instances of fires or overheating batteries aboard passenger and cargo carriers around the world since 2009. Of those, at least 39 began in a lithium battery, according to the FAA.

The danger from e-cigarettes may increase when users modify them or substitute after-market components, such as batteries and heating elements, the FAA said in a press release.

In the Los Angeles airport fire, the flight had departed without the bag so the fire didn’t occur during flight. On 9 Aug., a plane at Logan International Airport had to be evacuated after an e-cigarette caught fire inside a checked bag that had been loaded, the FAA said in the alert.

Bloomberg News, edited by Hospitality Ireland

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