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Flaming USB battery halts flight from Taiwan to Singapore

And that’s why aviation authorities don’t allow power banks in checked luggage

A passenger's USB power bank caught fire as a plane taxied towards the runway on a flight from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Singapore's Changi Airport on Tuesday, causing the airplane to return to its gate.

The fire was significant enough to frighten passengers and fill the cabin with smoke.

Taiwanese politician Wang Hao-yu was aboard flight TR993, by Scoot Airlines. He gave an account in Chinese of the incident on his Facebook page:

When the flight took off and taxied, a fire suddenly broke out in the cabin, and the cabin was immediately filled with smoke. The crew immediately began fire extinguishing operations after discovering it. Later, investigation found that the source of the fire was the mobile power supply in the aircraft, and the fire and smoke caused minor injuries to the two passengers, and the rest of the passengers were fine.

Wang later posted a photo of the burned-out battery.

After the plane underwent a safety check, the 187 passengers were individually given the option of disembarking or carrying on to Singapore. However, the Taiwan Transportation Security Board stepped in and TR993 did not fly that day.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) issued instructions [PDF] advising against carrying portable electric devices to prevent this exact scenario.

The United States' FAA issued a warning against spare lithium batteries in checked luggage way back in 2015.

Airlines now allow two power banks totaling under 100Wh on flights, but only in carry-on luggage.

Prior to those policies, batteries combusted in aircraft baggage, with consequences such as burning holes in planes.

Phablets and everyday smartphones have also been known to cause damage. In 2016, Samsung recalled Samsung Galaxy Note 7s after they were discovered to have a "battery cell issue." In August 2021, passengers escaped an Alaska Airlines aircraft via emergency slides after a smartphone caught fire and filled the cabin with smoke. That same year, an Apple iPhone XR also blazed aboard a British Airways flight after it got trapped in a passenger's seat.

In October 2022, Lufthansa extended its ban to include Apple AirTags. The airline claimed the move was to increase safety, but the policy raised eyebrows as the model CR2032 batteries used in AirTags are allowed in checked luggage in most scenarios – including under US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) rules. The ban was reversed within a week of being issued. ®

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