Why did a smartphone cause a British Airways seat fire?
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How dangerous is the risk to an aircraft from a mobile phone trapped in a seat mechanism?
The Air Acccident Investigation Branch has published an interesting report into a small fire which occured on a British Airways flight last October. It is an interesting insight into the risks caused by trapped mobile phones.
A British Airways Boeing 787-9 was flying from Miami to Heathrow on 20th October 2020. The aircraft was about to begin its descent and, as usual, passengers were woken to prepare for landing.
One passenger moved their Club World seat from the flat position into the upright position, before getting up and heading to the loo.
Whilst clearing the bedding, cabin crew noticed a strong smell and a charging cable which disappeared into the seat mechanism.
The smell grew stronger and was follwed by a hissing sound and a large plume of grey smoke when was emitted from the seat in a ‘tornado’ motion. An orange glow was seen in the seat area amongst the smoke.
The seat padding was pulled back to reveal a mobile phone trapped in the seat mechanism. A chemical fire extinguisher was used on the device.
Does this happen often?
It seems so.
The Civil Aviation Authority reviewed its database and found 166 previous
reports of personal electronic devices becoming trapped in passenger seats in the last five years.
42 of these events resulted in a fire or smoke in the cabin. This is one fire or smoke incident every six weeks on a flight to or from the UK.
What is being done to prevent a future incident?
Not much, in reality.
There are no guidelines which insist that aircraft seats are designed in a way which makes it impossible for a personal electronic device to become trapped.
Manufacturers are voluntarily trying to deal with the issue, but it is challenging to design moving seats that eliminates the chance that a device can fall into the mechanism.
Manufacturers are also in a permanent game of catch-up, with devices continually getting smaller and thinner and so at risk of slipping into ever smaller spaces.
As a result of this incident, the trade body which voluntarily draws up standards for aircraft seating has been ‘requested’ to come up with standards or recommended practices for seat designs which would minimise the risk of devices being crushed.
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