Published on Monday, May 15, 2017

Pilots fear 'catastrophic fire' if electronics are confined to the hold




UK pilots have voiced their fears of a fire breaking out on board flights in light of a possible laptop ban on travel to and from the UK.

The US government is believed to be considering banning laptops and tablets being carried in hand luggage on flights between the UK and the US.

It has already imposed restrictions on flights to and from 10 airports, mainly in the Middle East and north Africa.

Members of the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) say storing personal electronic devices in the hold could lead to a 'catastrophic fire' on board due to lithium batteries.

"Given the risk of fire from these devices when they are damaged or they short circuit, an incident in the cabin would be spotted earlier and this would enable the crew to react quickly before any fire becomes uncontainable," said BALPA flight safety specialist Steve Landells.

"If these devices are kept in the hold, the risk is that if a fire occurs the results can be catastrophic; indeed, there have been two crashes where lithium batteries have been cited in the accident reports.

BALPA members believe the risk of storing PEDs in the hold could be greater than the security risk of having them in the cabin and say the move clashes with current safety advice, which states devices should ideally be carried in the cabin in case of a fire.

"We don't doubt the security threats that have led to consideration of extending the ban on devices but we urge the authorities to carefully assess the additional fire risk from storing more PEDs in the hold to ensure we're not solving one problem by creating a worse one," said Landells.

Speaking at the Advantage Conference in Provence over the weekend, Alistair Pritchard, lead partner at Deloitte, said a laptop ban would have a major impact on both leisure and business travel.

He said faced with the prospect of having to fly short haul with no in-flight entertainment, families would be more likely to choose shorter routes or take their holidays in the UK.

The problem would be even greater for business travellers who want or need to work at the airport and on board.

"Some big corporates, like Deloitte, have a policy where you can't take your laptop in the hold for security reasons. It's a big issue for the sector," he said.

"If I can't take laptop, my four-day business trip is rendered useless."
 

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