Safety: FLY- BAG – Hoverboards & Lithium

Whilst IATA, FIATA and the airline industry in general still continue to debate whether lithium-ion cells should or should not be carried on aircraft, others are looking at better ways to protect aircraft luggage holds in the event of uncontained explosions or fires. So do scientists at the University of Sheffield, UK, who introduced a remarkable innovation for improving on-board security.

Andy Tyas  -  photos courtesy: Sheffield University
Andy Tyas - photos courtesy: Sheffield University

The Sheffield experts claim to have successfully developed a bomb proof lining for luggage ULD’s which can contain the force of an explosion if a device hidden in passenger luggage were to explode.

FLY-BAG is the adopted name 
The Sheffield University team led by Andy Tyas, of the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, carried out tests in the belly holds of disused aircraft to determine the effects of explosions by lining containers with the “FLY-BAG” which is made up of multiple layers of fabrics and composites. Once the containers were enveloped in the FLY-BAG, explosives which were placed in the containers were detonated.
The effects were gratifying for Mr Tyas and his team. They state that the tests have shown that aircraft luggage holds may be able to contain the force of an explosion should a device concealed in passenger luggage detonate during the flight.

Still a long way to go!
FLY-BAG is not yet a finished product which can or could be introduced into the market in the coming months.
There is still a lot of work to be done in proving that the system will work properly at high altitudes and the question of weight and bulk of containers covered in FLY-BAG still remains.
Andy Tyas was quoted as saying that “the key to the concept is that the lining is flexible and this adds to its resilience when containing the explosive force and any fragments produced.” He added that “FLY-BAG acts as a membrane rather than as a rigid walled container which might shatter on impact.”
In the meantime, there is a European consortium, which is now working on the FLY-BAG project, which includes partners from Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.
If it were proved effective, then why not take it a step further also for cargo containers and pallets?
One of the deciding questions will be whether carriers are willing to invest in such a preventive measure due to cost involved and possible payload and volume restrictions in their aircraft.
So called hardened luggage containers (HULD) which are also designed to contain explosions have been on the market for some time. These are much heavier than normal baggage containers and the cost per unit is quite high.
At first glance one might deduce that the FLY-BAG is too cumbersome and will never sell.
Well, who knows, as it is still in a testing mode and can surely be refined as far as volume and even weight is concerned.
It is high time that a compulsory ruling be issued that carriers must in the near future only have baggage containers on board which will contain explosions in passenger’s baggage.
Maybe this is a first deciding step!

FLY-BAG demonstration
FLY-BAG demonstration

Hoverboards now join Lithium-ion on the no go lists
The latest craze which came out in time for the Christmas season was called “Hoverboard.”
The Hoverboard which is a skateboard with a motor has been banned for carriage by air by airlines which include British Airways, Delta, United and American.
But are all others following suit?
The reason being that they contain lithium-ion batteries and it is said that there were incidents where these have caught fire when the hoverboard has been in motion.
IATA, after consultation with ICAO, has issued a notice to airlines, which highlights the danger of transporting hoverboards either as cargo or in passenger’s luggage.

No across the board ruling - Passing the Buck
When are we ever going to have a common ruling on the packaging and transport of lithium batteries?
It is ironic to see that IATA’s senior vice president for safety recently stated that “each airline has to make a risk based analysis to decide if these items are to be transported or not.”
Passing the buck down the line again?
ICAO has already rejected a firm proposal from the pilots union (ALPA) that said rechargeable lithium batteries should be banned as freight in the holds of passenger aircraft.
At least until the industry comes up with firm and proven ways and means of packaging and transporting them.
We are now into 2016 and running the danger that this very important issue will be bandied around again throughout the year.
The regulatory bodies and some carriers are just not listening to the risk-warnings and recommendation uttered by experts.
Air Cargo World reported in December 2015 that Britain’s National Trading Standards Organization say that of 17,000 hoverboards tested at UK entry ports, 88 percent were found to be unsafe, with a risk of overheating, catching fire and even exploding.
Is this not warning enough?
God forbid that another serious incident puts this back on so called industry experts agenda again.

John Mc Donagh

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