The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has come up with a proposal that bans larger electronic devices, such as laptops, from going onboard international flights in checked bags. The United Nations will be studying the proposal over the coming months.
Lithium-ion batteries could start a fire in a plane's cargo hold, one that the smaller fire extinguishers on a typical plane may not be able to suppress. At worst, it could "lead to the loss of the aircraft," according to the proposal as quoted by CNN.
The Associated Press via the Chicago Tribune attributes this to the FAA the paper recently filed with the United Nations agency. It will be the International Civil Aviation Organization under the U.N. that will review the proposal, and they have already included this paper on their agenda for this week's meeting on dangerous goods in Montreal.
The tests conducted by the FAA, as described in the paper, included ten tests that involve a fully charged laptop crammed into luggage. In several of the tests, a heater was placed against the device to test what happens when a lithium-ion battery pack undergoes "Thermal runaway."
This condition, combined with a nearby aerosol can like the 8-ounce kits of dry shampoo that is currently allowed in checked baggage, resulted in a fire that rapidly went out of control, causing the aerosol can to explode within 40 seconds.
This kind of fire grew too fast for the built-in Halon gas fire suppressant system in an aircraft to arrest before it can cause nearby aerosol cans to explode, as the tests show. While the explosion may not be large enough to cause damage to the plane's structure, it could cause a leak in the cargo compartment.
When that happens, the fire-retardant Halon gas would escape, and the fire would grow unchecked.
The paper suggests alternatives to banning laptops, as well, according to Gizmodo. These range from keeping passengers from carrying aerosols like dry shampoo near their laptops, or equipping planes with advanced fire suppression systems.