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Only you can prevent airline battery fires

US Department of Transportation: battery safety is fun!

Warning: fire

The U.S. Department of Transportation continues its war against laptop battery terror in the skies, warning passengers to take precautions while flying with a laptop or cell phone. Any suspicious lithium-ion battery behavior should be reported.

A safety advisory released Thursday was prompted by recent on-board fires ignited by li-ion battery devices.

The department advises travelers to keep spare batteries in their original retail packaging or covered with insulating tape to protect them from contact with metal objects. Each battery should be sealed in its own protective case and placed in carry-on baggage rather than checked-in. Batteries can be better monitored and dealt with by a flight crew in the overhead compartment than the cargo area the report said.

The department also recommends batteries be bought by a reputable source.

In May, a spare li-ion battery stowed away in a passenger's computer case, neither entombed with insulating tape nor placed in a separate protective case caught fire. A flight attendant was able to remove the burning case from the passenger cabin and toss it onto the ramp.

More recently, on Feb. 10, a plane departing from JFK International Airport was a victim of alleged battery fire in an overhead compartment. Thanks to fast action by the crew, no injuries were reported and the craft returned to JFK for an emergency landing. The incident is still under investigation, but initial reports indicate batteries were in fact involved.

According to the report, as a federal regulatory agency the department recognizes that any fire aboard a passenger flight is unacceptable.

The Air Line Pilots Association, in conjunction with the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Association plan to publish a safety alert and safety bulletin concerning the hazards of li-ion batteries and procedures that crew members should follow in the event of a battery fire.

Both organizations hope to fight back against battery attacks by revising safety standards and through public education and outreach.

Many computer makers have recalled their batteries in the past due to reports of combustion. In mid-2006 Sony recalled nearly 10 million faulty laptop batteries they had supplied to several manufacturers — the largest such recall to date. ®

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