Lithium battery fire risk linked to Dubai plane crash
The plane crash in Dubai that killed two American pilots may have been caused by its cargo of industrial lithium batteries, according to a report by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The official cause of the crash of UPS Flight 006 inside the Nad al Sheba military base has not been determined.
Though the FAA said in its report: “We are aware, however, that the plane’s cargo did include large quantities of lithium batteries and believe it prudent to advise operators of that fact.”
In a report, issued late last month, the General Civil Aviation Authority said information retrieved from the plane’s flight data recorders indicated that a fire in the cargo compartment filled the cockpit with so much smoke that the pilots could not see their instruments. Like the crash, the cause of the fire has not been determined.
The Boeing 747-400’s flight recorders, or “black boxes”, have been sent to the US for analysis.
The FAA report recommends that customers provide better identification of bulk shipments of lithium batteries, and urged that they be stowed in Class C cargo compartments, which have more stringent fire safety requirements than Class A or B compartments. It also called for a review on protocols on dealing with lithium batteries during in-flight fires, as well as careful handling of them.
The FAA is reviewing possible ways to deal with the hazards. Lithium metal batteries are “highly flammable and capable of ignition” as a result of a short circuit, being overcharged, being overheated to extreme temperatures, mishandling, or defects.
Overheating of the batteries risks causing “thermal runaway”, which the report describes as a chain reaction that leads to self-heating and the release of the battery’s stored energy.
A fire in the cargo compartment can cause lithium batteries to ignite and the fire to spread, “creating a risk of a catastrophic event”. The risks can be limited by proper fire-suppression systems and good packaging of the batteries, as well as compliance with safety regulations.
However, the fire-suppression agent present in Class C cargo compartments is ineffective in controlling a lithium-metal-cell fire, although it can put out a lithium-ion-cell blaze. A resulting explosion could easily damage cargo liners and allow “rapid fire spread” in the cargo area, the report said.
No containers are built to withstand an explosion of lithium metal batteries, the notice said.
Lithium-ion cells are also flammable and can self-ignite for the same reasons as metal batteries.
Published: October 9, 2010 04:00 AM