SINGAPORE: Ahead of the holiday season, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) wants to remind passengers to avoid packing dangerous goods in their check-in luggage and hand-carry bags.
CAAS has expressed concern that passengers are not fully aware of what "dangerous goods" are, and the dangers they pose if carried on board.
WHAT ARE DANGEROUS GOODS?
Dangerous goods are items that include explosives or are flammable, corrosive or poisonous, including fireworks, camping gas, lighter fluid, pesticides and paints.
They also include seemingly non-dangerous items such as power banks and certain types of cosmetics products such as nail polish remover.
CAAS Airworthiness and Flight Operations Director Tan Kah Han said these items may not look like threats, but could be flammable. "When you go on board the aircraft and they catch fire, it’s something that concerns everybody.”
In January 2015, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) - the world aviation governing body - banned lithium-metal batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft.
Lithium-metal batteries are non-rechargeable and generally used in watches, calculators and cameras.
In April this year, ICAO banned lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft. Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable and generally found in mobile phones, laptops and power banks.
WHAT CAN I BRING ON BOARD?
Portable electronic devices that contain lithium-ion batteries are allowed in check-in and hand-carry luggage. These would include laptops, iPads, tablets or smart devices.
However, spare batteries for these devices - including power banks for smartphones - are not allowed to be checked in. They must be hand-carried, and up to two spare batteries - which must be separately packed - are allowed.
WHY LITHIUM BATTERIES ARE DANGEROUS
A typical lithium battery unit contains many parts known as cells. Lithium batteries which are overheated or damaged or have defects in them may overheat and spark off a small fire.
However, because there are many cells within the battery, the fire gets passed from cell to cell - a chain reaction known as “thermal runaway”.
Thermal runaway gets out of hand if the burning lithium battery is in contact with other lithium batteries.
CAREFUL HANDLING OF DANGEROUS GOODS
This is why CAAS imposes stringent checks on dangerous goods before they are transported on planes.
On average, a cargo officer at SATS - which handles ground cargo as part of its business - spends nearly half an hour going through the paperwork of dangerous goods shipment as well as physically checking the condition of the packaging, before allowing the cargo to be stacked and secured for the aircraft.
A cargo officer going through the paperwork of "dangerous goods" cargo before checking them physically for proper labelling and condition of cargo. (Photo: Leong Wai Kit)
Typically, these dangerous goods include lithium batteries, flammable products as well as items that contain radioactive materials like medical devices.
On average, SATS receives about 200 shipments of dangerous goods cargo every day. Of these, about 15 cargo are rejected because they fail to meet standards such as proper labelling, or there are errors in their paperwork.
CAAS said that between 2014 and 2015, it investigated 18 cases of dangerous goods cargo and had issued warning letters to the shippers involved. This year, nine cases have been investigated to date.
Channel NewsAsia understands that the nature of the investigation did not involve security breaches.
PACKING IT RIGHT
To help passengers understand what to pack and what to exclude in their check-in and carry-on baggage, CAAS said it is looking at sending flyers to all households in Singapore at the end of the year, which would coincide with the year-end holiday season.
In 2015, CAAS sent out flyers with information on dangerous goods to about 1.3 million households.
Meanwhile, CAAS has urged travellers to refer to information online at the CAAS website to avoid inconvenience at the check-in counters.