Laptop battery fire in the cabin of an airliner on 7 March 2017
On 7 March 2017 a lithium-ion battery of a laptop computer positioned under a seat caught fire when Air Berlin’s Airbus A320 airliner was taxiing to the stand at Helsinki-Vantaa airport. The crew acted in accordance with their training and the operator’s instructions during the fire. First extinguishing was successfully completed and the fire did not spread in the cabin. After the first extinguishing the crew ordered the passengers to immediately leave the aircraft. The passengers were not gathered together in the terminal following disembarkation.
The training captain reported smoke in the cabin to the air traffic controller and requested rescue units be dispatched to the aircraft. Once the rescue units arrived, the fire officer who rode on the foam tender received preliminary information of the fire after the training captain opened the cockpit window. Following this, he went into the cabin to check what was happening and to get a picture of the situation After the extinguishing, the communication between the crew and the fire officer who entered the cabin did not function adequately in all aspects. Therefore, they did not share the same situational awareness at the onset of the events.
The air ambulance FinnHEMS base called the air traffic controller and asked whether they were needed at the site. At some point in the phone call the tower controller assessed that they were not needed for this situation. The events in the cabin progressed rapidly; neither the aircrew nor the air traffic controller had enough time to form a sufficiently accurate opinion of the possible harm to the passengers caused by the toxic fumes or the extinguishing agent.
The incident resulted in no injuries to persons. Inside the cabin the fire left a few burn marks. The laptop was destroyed. According to the owner the damaged laptop was switched off and not being charged during the flight. The fire originated in the laptop’s lithium-ion battery, but the fire damaged the laptop to the extent that it proved impossible to determine the ultimate cause of ignition. Laptop battery fires are rare in flight but they are not altogether unheard of. Normally, lithium-ion batteries used in portable electronic devices are categorised as dangerous goods and operators have placed restrictions on their transport by air.
During the investigation it was discovered that the instructions of the airline’s representative and those of Helsinki-Vantaa airport contained no guidelines for rapid passenger disembarkation in an abnormal situation or for managing the situation inside the terminal after the occurrence. During the investigation, as of 27 November 2017, Helsinki-Vantaa airport introduced the EASA’s recommendation for designating a common frequency for communication between rescue units and aircraft.
On the basis of the investigation Safety Investigation Authority, Finland issues one safety recommendation:
Finavia Oyj, working together with the representatives of airlines operating at the airport, should draw up guidelines for an abnormal situation in which passengers must rapidly be evacuated from an aircraft into the terminal.