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CNA Explains: What you need to know about taking a portable charger on your next holiday

How should you pack a rechargeable power bank and is it safe it to use it on the plane?

CNA Explains: What you need to know about taking a portable charger on your next holiday

Lithium batteries like the ones used in power banks are known to produce dangerous heat levels, cause ignition, short circuit very easily and cause inextinguishable fires, said one expert. (File photo: iStock)

SINGAPORE: On Tuesday (Jan 10), a Scoot flight from Taipei to Singapore was forced to return to the gate before take-off after a power bank caught fire on the plane

According to the airline, Scoot flight TR993 returned to the gate after a rechargeable power bank belonging to a customer overheated while the aircraft was on the ground. 

The owner of the power bank and his companion sustained minor burns to their fingers. 

A passenger on the flight told CNA that a flight attendant brought a fire extinguisher and the fire was put out within three minutes. 

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), power banks are considered to be spare lithium batteries.

These batteries are also typically found in electronic products like laptops, mobile phones and electric bicycles. 

What are the regulations if you want to bring your portable charger with you on your next holiday? How can you keep your baggage safe? 

Here’s what you need to know. 

WHERE SHOULD I PACK MY POWER BANK? 

Power banks and portable chargers must be carried in carry-on baggage. 

However, when installed in a device, a battery may be carried in checked baggage, said IATA on its website. 

In items like smart luggage that have power banks installed, the power banks must be removable and should be removed before the flight. 

If the power bank cannot be removed, the baggage item will not be allowed on the plane, said IATA on its website.

Information on airlines’ websites reflected similar restrictions, according to a check by CNA. 

On Singapore Airlines (SIA) flights, power banks or rechargeable battery packs are treated as spare lithium batteries. 

Customers can carry rechargeable power banks in their cabin baggage, and they must not be checked in, said an SIA spokesperson in response to CNA queries. 

“A Dangerous Goods signage is prominently displayed at our check-in counters, and SIA staff will direct customers to refer to the notice for more information on the carriage of dangerous goods, including power banks,” the spokesperson added. 

“Customers are also advised that prohibited items are not allowed on the flight, and restricted items are not allowed in their cabin or checked baggage.” 

On Scoot flights, passengers can carry rechargeable power banks in their hand-carry baggage. They must not be checked in, said a Scoot representative in response to CNA queries. 

Events in the past few years and research have shown that power banks present a risk of igniting and fuelling fires in aircraft cargo or baggage compartments, said Dr Wang Yihua, senior lecturer with Republic Polytechnic’s School of Engineering. 

“Lithium batteries are known to produce dangerous heat levels, cause ignition, short circuit very easily and cause inextinguishable fires.” 

This is why spare lithium batteries like power banks are not allowed in checked baggage - to reduce the risk of lithium battery fires on flights, he added.

WHAT SPECIFICATIONS ARE REQUIRED FOR MY POWER BANK? 

Spare lithium batteries and power banks below 100Wh can be carried in hand luggage, and those with a capacity between 100 to 160Wh can also be carried on, subject to the flight operator’s approval, said IATA on its website. 

On SIA and Scoot flights, customers can carry rechargeable power banks of up to 160Wh in their cabin baggage, said their respective spokespeople. 

Spare lithium batteries above 160Wh must be prepared and carried as cargo in accordance with IATA’s Dangerous Goods Regulations, it said on its website. 

On Jetstar flights, passengers carrying power banks with a power rating of more than 100Wh but less than 160Wh will need to seek airline approval to carry them on board, said a spokesperson for the airline. 

Power banks above 160Wh are prohibited, the spokesperson added. 

WHEN CAN I USE MY POWER BANK ON THE PLANE? 

On SIA flights, customers are allowed to use power banks when the flight is cruising at altitude, its spokesperson said. 

However, during taxi, take-off and landing, they cannot use their power banks to charge their electronic devices. 

They also cannot use the in-flight entertainment unit’s USB port to charge their power banks, the spokesperson said. 

On Jetstar flights, power banks also cannot be used during take-off and landing, said the airline's spokesperson. 

For safety reasons, Dr Wang cautioned against using any portable chargers on flight. 

When carrying batteries, including spare lithium batteries like power banks, in their checked or carry-on baggage, passengers should protect their batteries’ terminals from short circuiting. 

They can insulate the terminals by taping over the exposed terminals, he added. 

They can also protect the battery from damage by placing each one in a protective pouch, for example, said Dr Wang. 

HOW CAN I MAKE SURE MY POWER BANK IS SAFE? 

There are several reasons that might lead to a power bank overheating, said Dr Wang. 

These could include overheating caused by a manufacturing defect, short-circuiting due to the degradation of the power bank, high ambient temperature, or a poorly ventilated environment, he added. 

Using fast-charging technology or physical damage to the circuits and batteries could also cause it to overheat, he said. 

“If a battery is left to overheat for a lengthy period, it is more likely to catch fire or in the worst case scenario, explode.” 

When buying a power bank, individuals should consider buying one from a trusted brand that comes with a warranty, as well as operating and safety instructions, said Dr Wang. 

“The main factors to consider when purchasing a power bank are size, shape, weight and capacity,” he added. 

Dr Wang also shared some tips on how to use a power bank safely. 

Manufacturers typically recommend users to fully charge a brand new power bank, and he strongly encouraged people to do so. 

“One should avoid leaving your power bank on prolonged charge as this may cause it to overheat. They should also avoid charging the power bank on places that build up heat, such as on the bed,” he added.

To prevent short circuits, users should keep power banks away from metal objects or drinks. They should also store the power bank in a cool and dry place away from heat sources, moisture and dust, said Dr Wang. 

“One must avoid leaving the power bank in places with high temperature such as cars parked under the sun as that will cause overheating,” he said. 

“Avoid applying excessive force on the power bank or dropping the power bank as that will damage the power bank and cause short circuit. Lastly, I would advise to keep it away from children.”

Source: CNA/hw(rj)

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