Fire-risk lurking in containers

A RAPIDLY accelerating blaze – which started in a ULD containing undeclared lithium-ion batteries – turned the inside of a UPS B747-400 freighter into a ‘catastrophic’ chain reaction of flames and smoke before a crash three years ago in the Dubai desert, according to a 322-page probe into the disaster, which killed both pilots.
Investigators have pointed the finger at the presence of lithium batteries as the possible cause of the fire.
The United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority found “with reasonable certainty” that the fire aboard the freighter began in cargo containing “hundreds of lithium batteries” – of various designs.
The chain-reaction blaze filled the cockpit with smoke before the aircraft went down on September 3, 2010, about an hour into its flight to Cologne, Germany.
“The fire escalated rapidly into a catastrophic, uncontained” blaze, the report says.
Shippers of some of the lithium batteries loaded onto the jet in Hong Kong “did not properly declare these shipments” it found.
Before the report’s findings were made public, UPS had already started implementing new internal fire-fighting systems – such as improved cockpit vision of the cargo areas, and the installation of quick-donning, full-face oxygen masks which can be put on with one hand in three seconds.
UPS has also since ordered 1,821 ‘fire-resistant’ containers constructed from MACROLite, a fibre-reinforced plastic-based composite similar to the material used in ballistic body armour.
Read Nigel Tomkin’s full piece in the next edition of Air Cargo News 4 November 2013 – Issue No. 764

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