Australasia Fire Safety

Cargo hold smoke event involving a Boeing 737, DQ-FJH


From the Official Civil Aviation Safety Authority Australia accident report

On 26 April 2014, a passenger checked in four bags for a Fiji Airways flight from Melbourne,  Victoria, to Nadi, Fiji, on a Boeing 737 aircraft, registered DQ-FJH. The passenger was a certified remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) operator in Australia. The passenger stated during check-in that there were no batteries in the checked bags, but declared 8 lithium batteries being carried as hand luggage. The bags were screened in accordance with the Aviation Transport Security Regulations.

At about 2230 Eastern Standard Time (EST), the aircraft was at Gate D8 at Melbourne Airport and the passengers’ bags were being loaded. The cabin crew members were on board preparing the aircraft prior to boarding of passengers, and the first officer was in the cockpit conducting pre-flight checks. The captain was on the tarmac, conducting an external inspection of the aircraft. A ground engineer observed smoke emanating from the aft cargo hold, alerted the captain and notified the aerodrome rescue and firefighting (ARFF) service. The captain saw white heavy smoke billowing from the hold and immediately called the first officer to advise him. The first officer observed that the aft cargo fire warning light was illuminated. The captain directed the first officer to activate theaft cargo hold fire suppression system, shut down the auxiliary power unit and order an evacuation of the aircraft. The first officer advised air traffic control and declared ‘Mayday’.

The ARFF arrived and a smouldering hard-plastic case was removed to a safe location and cooled with a fine water spray. The passenger who had checked in the case was located and was asked whether any batteries were in it, to which the passenger responded there were none. The ARFF and Australian Federal Police inspected all four of the bags checked in by the passenger and found 19 batteries intact and additional 6-8 batteries that had been destroyed by fire.

An initial investigation revealed that several lithium-ion polymer batteries and an RPA controller were contained in the case. An electrical short circuit involving the batteries resulted in the initiation of a fire, destroying the contents and damaging the case (Figures 1, 2 and 3). An RPA controller containing other, similar, lithium-ion polymer batteries was found in one of the passenger’s other checked-in bags. The fire-damaged case had been screened through the oversized luggage point at Melbourne Airport.

Fiji Airways investigation

An analysis conducted by Fiji Airways found that the post-incident images indicated a Lithium-ion Polymer battery fire involving high capacity – high discharge batteries. The battery balancers, are used for charging heavy duty batteries.

Safety Action

As a result of this occurrence, Fiji Airways has issued an Airport Operations Standing Order:Lithium Metal & Lithium Ion Cells Batteries advising check-in staff to ask every passenger whether their baggage contains lithium batteries and to check batteries are carried in accordance with regulations. Any passenger carrying undeclared lithium batteries that are discovered prior to departure will be offloaded and refused carriage.

Safety message

This incident highlights the hazards associated with transporting lithium-ion batteries. Batteries operate via a controlled chemical reaction that generates current and transmits power through the battery terminals. This process generates heat. Rapid increase in temperature and pressure in the battery cells may result in fire. Information regarding carriage of batteries and battery-powered equipment is provided by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, Part 8,
It is important for safety that all batteries be individually protected so as to prevent short circuits. This can be achieved by placement of the batteries in the original retail packaging or by otherwise insulating the terminals, wires or fittings, e.g. by taping over exposed terminals with an electrical insulating tape or placing each battery in a separate plastic bag or protective pouch. When batteries are contained in personal electronic devices, measures must be taken to prevent unintentional activation.

Information regarding carriage of batteries and battery-powered equipment may be requested from CASA by e-mail to: [email protected] or from the CASA website:

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