Lithium-ion batteries power everything these days—our phones, our computers, or cars—but do they have enough power to take down an aircraft? FAA officials are freaking out and say maybe yes.
Given how ubiquitous these batteries have become, this may seem excessive, but on a moving aircraft, the batteries could be deadly, the FAA said earlier this month.
Basically, the administration’s main concern is loose, unattended batteries, not the ones already installed in our electronics.
Hypothetically, if left unattended, the batteries could overheat and burst into flames, and in the confines of a cargo, existing fire-suppression systems won’t stand a chance against blazing battery fires.
The theory isn’t an irrational one. Lithium-ion batteries aren’t just your regular Duracells. They pack a lot of power for their size, which can be pretty dangerous. If the batteries did short-circuit, they would overheat and cause a thermal runway, especially if packed tightly with other lithium batteries. In other words, the batteries would get so hot, they’d emit gasses that would fuel a fiery explosion.
But passenger cargo isn’t the FAA’s biggest concern (most flyers probably aren’t carrying bags of batteries with them, anyway). It’s the larger shipments of batteries that are worrisome.
While there have been several fires on board commercial aircraft caused by batteries, and while the MH370 was transporting a sizable amount of batteries when it disappeared in March 2014, there’s not enough evidence to say batteries are to blame for the missing airline. But until the jet is found and the crash is explained, it can’t be ruled out as a possible cause just yet.
After all, it is a fact-based explanation, something which many explanations of the plane’s fate lack.