The major airline unions, meanwhile, have looked at the problem and basically punted. The Air Line Pilots Association, the largest pilots union in North America, complains about battery risk but hasn’t taken a formal position on a ban.
What little action is taking place is manifesting in an education campaign aimed at passengers, which is questionably useful. Can a flier do anything to stop a battery fire? Yes, technically. The FAA says that laptops should be off, during a flight, since there is standby or sleep mode can overheat the battery. Passengers can also package their laptop to prevent damage that can increase the risk of a fire and keep the laptop from other flammable material.
But the trouble is expecting passengers to abide by these guidelines. Consider that the TSA seized 3,957 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints firearms from carry on luggage, and 34 percent of these had a round chambered. It may be too much to expect someone packing spare batteries to keep them away from a bottle of hairspray, especially when lives may be at stake.
Why not consider an FAA ban and put safety first? The aviation world got a taste of what would happen in 2017 when the Department of Homeland Security tried to ban laptops on flights after fears that terrorists were designing bombs in their likeness. Laptops are such a common part of the travel experience, especially for the monetarily vital business travelers, that a ban would send them running to airlines without one. This would happen just as Middle Eastern carriers expand into more domestic U.S. markets.
It’s not just the airlines, which are powerful enough on their own, who resist sweeping bans. A lapse in U.S. travel would mean big losses in tourism dollars, and that causes ripple effects in Congress and the White House. Airlines are a major economic driver, and that must be maintained.
But a downed airliner imposes costs, too. It will only take one fatal incident on a passenger plane to cause this issue to resurface in an unavoidable way. Until then, everyone will look the other way, even as the researchers who proved the risk exists bring it up in public. And the fires continue to happen—on August 1, a Ryanair flight from Spain to New York evacuated after a carry on laptop ignited.
Aviation’s stellar safety record depends on learning and adapting to newly discovered threats. When these lessons are ignored, terrible things can happen. And they are more terrible when they are avoidable.
Previously published by: Popular Mechanics USA