Fire suppression systems urged in all cargo planes

Associated Press Modified: November 28, 2012 at 2:33 pm •  Published: November 28, 2012
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Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which power devices such as laptop computers, cellphones and MP3 players, are a fire concern, too. Fires involving lithium-ion batteries can reach 1,100 degrees, close to the melting point of aluminum, a key material in airplane construction. Lithium-metal battery fires are far hotter, capable of reaching 4,000 degrees.

The FAA said in a statement that it will review NTSB's recommendations. The statement noted that FAA has been researching alternatives to halon suppression systems for a number of years. A report two years ago by the agency concluded that the cost of installing fire suppression systems in main-deck cargo compartments was too expensive to justify requiring airlines to add them.

UPS said tests last month of a new type of cargo container it has developed showed the container can suppress and contain lithium-ion battery fires for as long as four hours , which is enough time in most instances for pilots to safely land the plane. The tests were conducted at the FAA's technology center in Atlantic City, N.J., with FAA and NTSB officials looking on.

The container is made from fiber-reinforced plastic akin to materials used in body armor and suits for race-car drivers. Temperatures during the test reached as high as 1,200 degrees, but a powdered flame suppressant released inside the container prevented most of its contents from being damaged, UPS said. The airline is also testing a new type of flame-suppressing cover for cargo pallets.

While the new technologies require further testing, "we believe they have the potential to revolutionize cargo safety," UPS spokesman Mike Mangeot said.

Separately, the FedEx Corp. has developed a fire-suppression system that, once a fire is detected in a cargo container, punches a hole into the top of the container and injects an argon-based foam capable of smothering a fire, as well as absorbing toxic fumes, officials for the airline said.

FedEx has installed the system on its Boeing 777s and MD11s, which fly long routes over water and to remote areas of the globe. "We will continue installation on our entire long-haul fleet," FedEx spokeswoman Maury Donahue said.

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Online:

NTSB letter: http://tinyurl.com/ch6obl2

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