The Federal Aviation Administration, citing fire hazards, has warnedagainst using Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones on aircraft. Three Australian airlines and the German carrier Lufthansa have outright banned their use onboard.
But the threat of airliner fires is not limited to Samsung devices, which the company has offered to replace. And the hazard is far more than theoretical.
Qantas, one of the Australian carriers, had an onboard fire during a trans-Pacific flight this year when a passenger’s cellphone was crushed in the mechanism of a business-class seat and the phone’s lithium-ion battery ignited.
In January as a Delta Air Lines flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta arrived at the gate, crew members discovered that a carry-on bag containing two laptop computers had burst into flames, according to the F.A.A. The smoke prompted some passengers to use the emergency exits and wait on the wings until help arrived.
The problem is lithium-ion batteries, which have become the standard for portable consumer electronics, including phones, tablets and laptops, because of the power they can pack into a small package. They are also highly volatile.
Battery fires were considered a contributing factor in the crashes of three cargo planes in the last 10 years: an Asiana 747 in 2011, a UPS 747 in Dubai in 2010 and a UPS DC-8 in Philadelphia in 2006.
In January, the F.A.A. issued a warning that lithium-ion batteries in a cargo hold carried the “risk of a catastrophic hull loss” on an airplane.