Mobile phone video footage has emerged of a bag on fire, billowing with smoke in the overhead locker of a China Southern Airlines plane.
During the short clip, a flight attendant is seen hurrying to put out the fire, dousing the luggage with a bottle of water.
An alarmed passenger steps in, throwing a bottle of what appears to be orange juice over the rest of the flames, until the fire is extinguished.
The cause of the fire was a portable charger, which spontaneously combusted in the overhead compartment of the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
Fortunately, this was not mid-flight. The fire broke out as passengers were boarding at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport on Sunday afternoon.
The hazardous incident provoked a three-hour delay on flight CZ3539, which had been scheduled to fly to Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport at around noon.
China Southern Airlines released a statement on the Chinese microblogging website, Weibo, about the incident.
It explained that the fire had been caused by a portable charger, powered by a lithium ion battery which was stored inside a passenger’s cabin luggage.
No one was injured by the fire and the aircraft only suffered minor interior damage. It is believed the passenger whose bag caught alight is assisting the airline with an investigation into the fire.
Over the past few years, some aviation experts have expressed concerns about charged lithium batteries being transported in the hold of commercial aircrafts, due to fire risks.
This has led the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to slap down a worldwide ban on lithium ion batteries being carried in the hold of passenger flights.
It stresses however that the rule does not apply to personal electronic devices carried by passengers or crew in cabin baggage – within certain limitations.
Portable chargers and lithium ion batteries are commonly used in devices, from mobile phones and digital cameras to portable medical devices such as mobility aids.
According to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) “spare batteries for portable electronic devices containing lithium ion batteries exceeding a watt-hour (Wh) rating of 100 Wh but not exceeding 160 Wh [can be] carried for personal use” in carry-on baggage but not in the hold.
“Each lithium ion cell or battery must be individually protected so as to prevent short circuits.”
Airlines also have their own policies about when passengers can bring lithium ion batteries on board.
Whilst British Airways allows lithium ion batteries in some cases, they must never be put in the hold and the carrying requirements depend on the battery’s Wh rating. In some cases, the passenger must contact the airline for approval before carrying these potentially hazardous items on board.
According to Ryanair, passengers are allowed to bring a “maximum of two spare lithium ion batteries in carry-on baggage and these must be individually protected to prevent short circuits.
“Battery terminals must be either recessed or packaged so as to prevent contact with metal objects including terminals of other batteries.”
easyJet’s policy is similar, with all spare batteries including lithium ion for portable electronic devices to be carried in carry-on baggage only. Again, they must be individually protected to prevent short circuit.