Safety investigation L2017-01 on a laptop battery fire in the cabin of an airliner on 7 March 2017 completed – one safety recommendation issued

Published 5.3.2018

On 7 March 2017 the lithium-ion battery of a laptop computer caught fire in the cabin of an airliner travelling from Berlin to Helsinki as the aircraft was taxiing to its stand after having landed. The fire resulted in no injuries to persons or in any serious material damage.

During the fire the cabin crew acted in accordance with their instructions and training: they extinguished the fire and ordered the passengers to immediately leave the aircraft. Some of the passengers followed the instructions and disembarked without their outer garments or hand luggage. However, other passengers tried to take their hand luggage with them, which resulted in the aisle being blocked and the deplaning process being slowed down.

The passengers were not gathered together in the terminal following the first extinguishing and disembarkation. By gathering passengers together it is possible to find out whether all persons on board the aircraft have deplaned, check their condition and provide additional information to them about the incident.

The instructions of the airline’s representative and those of Helsinki-Vantaa airport contained no guidelines for rapid passenger disembarkation in an abnormal situation or for managing the situation inside the terminal after an occurrence.

On the basis of the investigation Safety Investigation Authority, Finland recommends that Finavia Oyj, working together with the representatives of airlines operating at the airport, make contingency plans for an abnormal situation in which passengers must rapidly be evacuated from an aircraft into the terminal.

Even a small fire on board an aeroplane is one of the most serious threats

Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used in portable electronic devices because they are light and long-lasting and have a larger capacity per weight ratio than other battery types. Lithium-ion batteries are becoming increasingly commonplace. At the same time, one must keep in mind that an internally or externally damaged lithium-ion battery may ignite in an explosive manner, causing material damage and injuries to persons.

The U.S. aviation authority FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has compiled statistics from overheating, smoking, igniting and exploding lithium-ion batteries since 1991. By the end of 2016 there were in all 138 such occurrences. In 2016 there were 31 occurrences, a third of which was associated with electronic cigarettes. While there is only incomplete information available on some of the occurrences, in at least 13 cases the cabin crew had to use fire extinguishers. In addition to in-flight incidents the statistics also list occurrences detected during aircraft loading. It is worth noting that the statistics only show occurrences reported to the FAA. No harmonised global statistics on such events are available.

For the sake of fire safety it is better to carry devices in the cabin. This is because a potential fire would be detected earlier than it would in the cargo compartment and it is also possible to begin extinguishing the fire in its initial phase.

More information:
Ismo Aaltonen, Chief Air Safety Investigator, tel. +358 295 150 703
Veli-Pekka Nurmi, Executive Director, tel. +358 295 150 701