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Safety promotion meeting on Lithium batteries

An EASA-led team focussing on safety promotion regarding Lithium battery fires in the cabin held an inaugural meeting on 15 January in Brussels. The team, comprising of airlines, regulators and ERA discussed the foundations of the safety promotion campaign and what messages should be conveyed to passengers and industry stakeholders.

Following EASA’s ‘Not on my Flight’ safety promotion campaign last year, which was aimed at disruptive passenger behaviour, the agency is now working on a major new project to promote the risk of Lithium battery fires in the cabin.

To commence the project, EASA formed a small task team which included representatives from several European civil aviation authorities, plus Airbus, Easyjet and ERA. The team held its first meeting on 15 January at the offices of the Belgium Ministry of Transport in Brussels to discuss and lay down the groundwork for what will culminate on another safety awareness campaign aimed not only at passengers but also industry stakeholders.

To better understand the size of the issue, it is first worth noting that in a single-aisle commercial aircraft with 140 seats, there are on average 500 Lithium batteries being carried for the purpose of powering passenger Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs). Statistics shared during the meeting showed that between 2016-17 there was a 58 per cent increase in lithium battery events being reported via Mandatory Occurrence Reports (MORs), with the trend continuing through 2018. Of particular concern is the increase in hand baggage being moved into the hold at both check-in and at the gate, meaning that Lithium batteries/PEDs are almost certainly being carried in the hold.

The UK CAA shared some interesting (and somewhat worrying!) statistics regarding passenger understanding and awareness. A survey of 1,000 passengers (UK population) who had flown in the previous 12 months showed that 40 per cent were unaware of any restrictions on the carriage of Lithium batteries, with 51 per cent unsure of what Lithium batteries are used to power. In addition, only 11 per cent knew all the restrictions on carrying Lithium batteries on an aircraft whilst 53 per cent never received information on Lithium batteries when preparing for their flight.

Based on these findings, the task team agreed that passenger education of the risks, restrictions and requirements is key to managing and reducing this risk. First and foremost, there should be greater clarification for passengers on exactly what is defined as a Lithium-powered PED. Such devices include mobile phones, laptops, iPads, e-cigarettes, amart watches, digital cameras and powerbanks. Basically, if passengers are made aware that the device(s) they are taking on board an aircraft, or wish to leave in their hold baggage, are powered by a Lithium battery this will go some way to reducing the risk. The meeting discussed the most effective and timely way of communicating such a message to the passengers, with suggestions ranging from the online booking process, at airport check-in, at the boarding gate and/or finally once on board the aircraft.

Looking ahead, EASA will now map opportunities for advising greater regulatory engagement on this issue which will include a consistent message to relevant industry stakeholders that will ultimately filter down to the passengers via an awareness campaign. All agreed that if cabin bags are removed due to cabin bulk-out and placed in the hold, it is essential the passengers are educated in understanding that all PEDs must be removed from bags and that handling agents enforce this requirement. On a negative side, this may result in a slight delay to the flight. However, this is better than the alternative of a passenger alerting cabin crew during the flight that their bag in the hold may contain a Lithium-powered device!

As with the ‘Not on my Flight’ campaign in 2019, ERA with the co-operation of our airline members, will support EASA on this new important safety campaign/message.