Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous in consumer goods from laptops to cellphones. They can overheat if damaged, are defective or are packaged improperly, leading to fires and explosions and making them a worry for shipment aboard aircraft.
Some of the dozens of fire and smoke incidents involving lithium batteries in aviation:
— April 2014: A Fiji Airways Boeing 737 was preparing for takeoff from Melbourne, Australia, when smoke was discovered coming from the cargo bay. The plane was evacuated and the cargo unloaded. The source of the fire turned out to be lithium-ion batteries in a passenger’s checked bags. Nineteen of the batteries were undamaged, but another six to eight batteries were consumed by the fire.
—July 2011: An Asiana Airlines Boeing 747 cargo plane carrying a shipment of electronics and lithium-ion car batteries crashed into the Strait of Korea after the crew reported a fire on board. Eighteen minutes later, contact was lost with the plane. Both pilots died.
—September 2010: A United Parcel Service Boeing 747 cargo plane carrying more than 80,000 lithium metal and lithium-ion batteries from Hong Kong caught fire and crashed near Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The plane’s two pilots, who were killed, reported smoke in the cockpit so thick they couldn’t see their instruments. The plane crashed into an empty dining hall that only a short while earlier had been full of people.
—February 2006: A UPS cargo plane barely made it to Philadelphia after a fire erupted in its cargo area. The pilots escaped with seconds to spare. Lithium batteries were in the cargo location where the smoke alarm first went off.
—August 2004: A shipment of lithium-ion batteries caught fire while being loaded onto a Federal Express plane in Memphis, Tennessee. The shipment had just arrived from Los Angeles and was being transferred to a second plane destined for Paris when the fire was discovered.
— April 1999: A shipment of lithium metal batteries caught fire at an airline cargo facility at Los Angeles International Airport. The pallet of batteries had been rolled onto its side while being offloaded and was left in that position for more than three hours, damaging some batteries.
Sources: Government and news reports.