In a reversal from the idea not long ago to keep all large electronics in the cargo hold, The FAA is once again suggesting lithium batteries be banned from aircraft checked bags, and they’ve outlined their thoughts in a working paper you can find here. What does this spell for you and I? Maybe a bit more hassle on the low end, but for larger crews it could spell large hassle, and perhaps will require new procedures for preparing for air travel.
In a nutshell, events over the past years and recent research shows that these batteries pose a significant risk of igniting and fueling fires, and in an aircraft with a cabin full of pumped in oxygen, this isn’t good. Actually, a fire in the cabin is certainly better than one in the hold, because in the cabin you can tend to it, and monitor it, as the paper suggests:
“With regard to the safety risk posed by PEDs (personal electronic devices), the Technical Instructions currently recommend that these devices be carried in the cabin on the basis that, should a PED initiate a fire, the cabin crew can expeditiously identify the incident, take appropriate firefighting action, and monitor the device for possible re-ignition. Operators have dedicated resources to provide firefighting materials in the cabin and train cabin crew on how to properly respond to a PED fire.”
It is interesting, however, that it was years ago that the FAA and IATA (The International Air Transport Association) agreed that the cargo holds of civilian aircraft can reach temperatures, and be conducive to igniting these batteries into fire. So why is the really warning coming now and not then? And why is the warning really pertaining to passenger aircraft, when there have been pilots calling for their ban for years and for the cargo aircraft also? It also shows why the suggestion not long ago of putting large electronics in the cargo was such a dumb idea. Anyone in aviation knew this.
So what does this mean for photographers? Well it just means keep your stuff with you, and for the casual shooter that’s not hard. However, for those with large kits it is, and it may mean you need to plan ahead with the airline and let them know you have a lot to carry and to allot you more overhead bin space. Either way, this is something to keep in mind.
I for one fully agree, and it’s always a worry for me when flying that someone has just forgotten a bunch of batteries in their luggage. See the paper in its entirety here.