Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s has a serious exploding battery problem on its hands, and for now a huge global recall has been announced. US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an official warning saying the phone should not be switched on or charged during a flight. For Samsung, the recall is expected to cost close to $1 billion, but there is a human cost that can’t be ignored. Not only is an exploding phone a threat for someone in a room charging it; the hazard multiplies a thousand-fold when such a device is transported in a pressurised aluminium vessel flying across the sky at 36,000 feet. And now, the FAA has issued a directive on the use of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and its storage in luggage.
In a statement on its website FAA has said, “In light of recent incidents and concerns raised by Samsung about its Galaxy Note 7 devices, the Federal Aviation Administration strongly advises passengers not to turn on or charge these devices on board aircraft and not to stow them in any checked baggage.”
You don’t need the IQ of a scholar to know that fire and planes in the same sentence do not make for a pleasant outcome. Aviation authorities across the world have restricted the transport of certain items that are flammable, or unstable in any way. This includes paint thinners, turpentine, some kinds of paint, and aerosols.
Now let’s talk a little about batteries. Lithium-ion batteries can experience thermal runaway, that results in overheating, and in some cases explosions. A thermal runaway is the result of the cathode and the anode on the battery coming in contact with each other, either through physical damage to the unit or a manufacturing defect.
There have been 35 instances of Galaxy Note 7 fires that have been reported, which isn’t a lot considering the millions of units Samsung had planned to ship. But in my opinion, the real risk would carrying a consignment of these Galaxy Note 7 devices in the cargo hold of an aircraft. If the problem with the Note 7 batteries is a manufacturing defect, they will not make for a safe cargo consignment. Thermal runaway of a batteries causing fire can happen to virtually any smartphone or device out there that has a lithium ion battery installed.
There is speculation that the crash of (what is now the most famous disappearance of an airliner) MH370 could have been because of the lithium ion batteries catching fire in the cargo hold, which the fire suppression system could not douse. The plane was carrying 440 pounds of these batteries on the fateful flight as records show.
When dangerous materials are carried on an aircraft with or without the knowledge of the airline, bad things happen. Back in 2000, a Malaysia airlines aircraft was damaged beyond repair, and five ground handlers became ill after trying to unload 80 canisters of a chemical called Oxalyl Chloride. It’s extremely lucky that the leak did not happen in flight.
Is it better to be safe than sorry? Probably, especially on a flight. Carrying batteries in an aircraft is safety risk inherently and the FAA is right to take note of this with Galaxy Note7.