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Questions Continue About Lithium Batteries

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New rules recently have addressed the safety of shipping lithium batteries in air cargo, but a story in Monday's Bloomberg News raised questions about their use in electronic devices in the cockpit of passenger airplanes. "Because many airlines are replacing paper charts with laptops and tablet computers, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration conducted tests on what would happen if one of their rechargeable lithium-ion battery cells ignited," according to the Bloomberg story. "In one test, the cockpit filled with smoke thick enough to obscure instruments and vision out the window for about five minutes."

In an undated PowerPoint posted online, Steve Summer, of the FAA Fire Safety Branch, reported on an Electronic Flight Bag Hazard Assessment, and concluded: "Tests have shown that even with a very high ventilation rate (1 air exchange/minute), a typical COTS Li-Ion battery could pose a significant hazard within the flight deck environment and could potentially present a catastrophic risk." A working group for the International Civil Aviation Organization is scheduled to meet in Germany on Sept. 9 and will address the new research, according to Bloomberg.

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