In June 2018, a Boeing 737-700 WestJet flight, from Calgary International Airport (CYYC), Alberta, to Vancouver International Airport (CYVR), British Columbia, with 2 flight crew members, 3 cabin crew members, and 53 passengers on board, was forced to return to the airport following a fire in the cargo hold of the aircraft.
Ten minutes later, the aircraft landed; no visual signs of fire were noted, and no hot spots were detected by infrared camera imaging.
Once ground crew personnel opened the lower aft baggage compartment, they found one passenger’s bag showed signs of fire damage and there was minor thermal damage to the cargo hold’s fire-resistant liner near that bag.
According to the report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the bag belonged to a passenger who “flew frequently for business purposes and was aware of WestJet’s policies” that say e-cigarettes and the lithium-ion batteries associated with them must be in carry-on baggage only, not in checked bags.
The passenger had inadvertently packed two spare lithium-ion batteries for his e-cigarette in a front pocket of his bag before he checked in the bag at the airport, the report states.
The checked bag proceeded through security screening and was loaded into the cargo hold with the two spare batteries inside.
According to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), spare (uninstalled) lithium ion and lithium metal batteries must be carried in carry-on baggage only.
When a carry-on bag is checked at the gate or at planeside, all spare lithium batteries must be removed from the bag and kept with the passenger in the aircraft cabin.
The battery terminals must be protected from short circuit.
The proliferation of lithium-ion batteries in personal electronic devices has resulted in an increase in aviation cargo and passenger baggage events involving smoke, fire, extreme heat, or explosion.
Three cargo fires accidents in the past seven years have resulted in the deaths of two flight crews and the total loss of three aircraft.
The NTSB investigations for all three accidents revealed deficiencies in fire safety strategy used for both fire detection and suppression and noted the role played by cargo container materials.
All workers employed in an industry that involves the preparation or transportation of hazardous materials must have DOT General Awareness training.
This includes not just drivers and manufacturers, but anyone who manufactures, repairs, or reconditions containers used to transport hazardous materials.