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Guidance on electronics by air
Originally published:  01/04/2012
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been busy issuing guidance on the carriage of electronic items by aircraft. Last month it highlighted two issues: the carriage of spare batteries by film crew and cameramen; and the carriage of electric wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
The first of these responded to a recent incident in which a flight had to turn back to its departure airport when the pilot in command was made aware of spare lithium ion batteries in checked baggage in the hold, contrary to the provisions. The return of the aircraft caused substantial disruption to other passengers and to the airline; CAA notes that an in-flight return is hugely expensive and that some airlines have, in the past, pursued passengers for associated costs.
CAA reminds passengers that spare lithium batteries must be carried in carry- on baggage; the terminals must be protected from short circuit, by packing each battery in its own protective case or heavy-duty food bag. Generally speaking, lithium ion batteries carried on an aircraft must not exceed 100 Wh; however, batteries up to 160 Wh may be carried with the approval of the airline.
CAA’s second piece of guidance came in the form of a formal Safety Notice (SN- 2012/003) on safety requirements applicable to the carriage of electric mobility aids. Again, this refers back to actual incidents, including one at Manchester Airport in September 2008 when ground crew unloading baggage from the forward hold of a Boeing 757 saw blue sparks coming from an electric wheelchair. It was placed on a baggage belt vehicle, where it burst into flames and was completely destroyed.
CAA says the probable cause of the incident was that the device’s electrical circuit had not been protected from inadvertent operation during loading; the motor became engaged, causing friction or an electrical load that led to ignition. Since then CAA has received more than 70 further reports involving electric mobility aids, where the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Technical Instructions had not been complied with.
The Safety Notice is designed to remind aircraft and airport operators of their responsibility in regard to the ground handling and safe carriage of electric mobility aids. CAA says it is concerned that the lines of communication between wheelchair users, travel agents, tour operators, airport operators and aircraft operators are not fully effective in ensuring that adequate instructions are obtained and communicated to the personnel tasked with making mobility aids safe for carriage by air.