FAA: No Plans to Ground Laptops

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2006-08-15 Print this article Print

Despite Dell's recent recall, batteries in laptop computers and cell phones are unlikely to catch fire and would be easy to extinguish during a flight if they did, the FAA says.

The television images of flaming Dell laptops may be fun to watch, but to the Federal Aviation Administration, those laptops are not a significant problem for air travel.

Dick Hill, the FAA's program manager for Aircraft Fire and Cabin Safety Research, has been testing lithium ion batteries like those used in laptops to see how likely they are to catch on fire, and how hard they are to extinguish if they do start burning. Hill works at the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center at the Atlantic City International Airport, in New Jersey.

"They're no more hazardous than any other battery-powered piece of equipment," Hill told eWEEK in an exclusive interview. Hill said that while such batteries can catch on fire, "If you're carrying it into the passenger cabin, the flight attendants should be capable of using an extinguisher and controlling it easily."

In fact, Hill was testing a lot more than just a few laptop batteries. His tests involved hundreds of batteries at a time. The idea was to see if shipping batteries as cargo would be dangerous to passengers. He's determined that it isn't.

The difference between lithium ion batteries and the lithium batteries that are banned from being carried as cargo on passenger aircraft is that standard on-board fire suppression systems can handle lithium ion batteries, but cannot put out a burning lithium battery.

Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo insist that Dell's battery recall has no relevance to their own laptops. Click here to read more.

Lithium batteries are usually small, and are used in hearing aids, cameras and the like. Individually, those items are allowed on airplanes. The rechargeable Lithium ion batteries that are used in cell phones, iPods and laptops are safer, Hill said.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: FAA: No Plans to Ground Laptops

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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