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New flight threat from electronic flight bags

Kent Faith - Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A question posed to me a few weeks ago was about whether there continue to be increases in incidents of Lithium fires and failures on commercial aircraft. The simple answer to this is YES and we see no decline in these increases.

spectrum chart The above graph predictions are on Freighter aircraft.

I thought it important to note that the FAA made the following statement specifically about Electronic Flight Bags or EFB’s and the risks associated (these are iPad type units now carried by the pilots to use in place of heavy flight bags):

…”significant hazard within the flight deck environment and could potentially present a catastrophic risk” (Steve Summer, FAA Fire Safety Branch, “Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) Hazard Assessment,” 2012, http://www.fire.tc.faa.gov/systems.asp).

Keep in mind the definition of a catastrophic risk (FAA AC 25-109-1a) or catastrophic failure must be extremely improbable and the AC goes on to say:

  • Catastrophic events are those events which “would prevent continued safe flight and landing”
  • “Extremely improbable” means having a probability less than 10-9 or less than a one in a billion chance of occurring

FAA, IATA, and other data lead the Royal Aeronautical Society to conclude:

…“the accident data reviewed shows a much greater rate of occurrence of catastrophic in-flight smoke/fire/fume events than the definition of “extremely improbable”, or once in a billion flights. In some rare cases, an in-flight fire can become a “catastrophic” event. There is a definite need for improved mitigations to reduce the likelihood and severity of such events.”

The Three best quotes:

  1. “Throwing water on a lithium battery fire can, however, revive the flames and make it more difficult to extinguish because of the reduction of lithium in water, which leads to the release of hydrogen, which is highly [in]flammable”. BEA Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses - France
  2. “Unfortunately, the more testing we do, the more concerned we become,” Gus Sarkos, manager of the FAA’s Fire Safety Branch The Washington Post Business Aug.11, 2014
  3. Such events constitute one of the big emerging safety questions facing the industry. “Batteries are a big deal” and airborne cabin incidents involving them “clearly are big issues,” Nancy Graham, the top safety official at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

What we have is consensus that Lithium battery fires are dangerous and even models as to how many will happen, however we still don’t have proper direction to extinguish one from the FAA.