“All’s quiet on the western front.” A well-known cliché around the world and one which could be attributed to the lithium battery discussions of the past years. So much danger, so many discussions, no real solu-tions and everything “went quiet again.” A recent worrying incident brings back the importance of firm regulations being put in place and being strictly adhered to.
UPS MD-11 freighter cargo fire indication
It is reported that a United Parcel Service (UPS) MD-11 freighter and its three crew members had a lucky escape on February 28th. The aircraft was operating UPS flight 5X-3 from Hong Kong to Dubai and is said to have been carrying around 80 tons of LiOn batteries. This would represent almost the entire payload that the MD-11 freighter can carry.
The report goes on to say that just overhead Yangon, Myanmar, there was a fire warning from the cargo deck and the crew reacted fast by initiating an emergency descent to Yangon, where the aircraft landed safely. It is said that no fire had occurred but that there was a distinct LiOn battery smell in the main cabin. It was not clear whether or when the aircraft will be back in service and what has happened to the LiOn cargo load. A lucky escape for the crew it seems.
LiOn batteries are still flown daily on freighters
It is well known that this commodity is a danger to the life of crews and passengers when transported on aircraft due to their combustibility. So many discussions have been held during the past years on whether they should be banned altogether.
Then came the decision to ban them in the holds of passenger aircraft. UPS had a terrible experience some years back when they lost a B747 freighter and its crew over Dubai after a main deck fire became uncontrollable and smoke incapacitated the crew. It was suspected at that time that the fire originated from LiOn batteries on board.
Everyone in the business knows that there are still companies out there who are not packaging this volatile cargo properly and that these batteries can start to interact with each other when they
are packed closely together. The results of that are well known. Why then, is it still possible that freighters can carry full payloads of LiOn batteries and that there are no real remedies on
hand which make the transport safe?
Maybe those responsible were hoping that the problem goes away by itself.
The recent incident only goes to show that it’s only a matter of time before another tragic loss of life and aircraft is around the corner.
The UPS guys were lucky this time around!
John Mc Donagh