French air accident investigators have opened a formal inquiry after someone was seriously injured onboard an Air France flight when a passenger’s electronic cigarette burst into flames just as the aircraft was making its final approach into Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on November 2.
The incident has just been reported by the French Bureau d’enquêtes et d’analyses (BEA), although few details of the accident or the person’s injuries have yet been revealed.
Air France flight AF9421 from Malaga, Spain to Paris had been cleared for a short final landing when an electronic cigarette belonging to one of the passengers suddenly caught on fire.
Cabin crew immediately responded and used a special fireproof bag to contain the device. The BEA reported, however, that one person onboard the aircraft sustained a serious injury as a result of the fire.
Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, are of particular concern to the aviation industry because they are powered by lithium batteries that can be particularly hard to extinguish if they catch fire.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and many other aviation regulators around the world prohibit passengers from packing e-cigarettes in their checked luggage because of the fire risk.
Although a fire event in the passenger cabin is dangerous, cabin crew are trained as inflight firefighters and have the resources to deal with the situation. If a lithium battery were to catch fire in the hold, however, it is incredibly hard to contain the fire and the situation could quickly get out of control.
Nontheless, flight attendant unions have consistently expressed their concerns over e-cigarettes and in 2019 Sara Nelson, head of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) called for e-cigarettes to be completely banned from being taken onboard airplanes.
Lithium batteries are, of course, found in massive range of other small electronic items including mobile phones and iPad’s. Last August, an Alaska Airlines aircraft was evacuated after a passenger’s mobile phone burst into flames just after the plane had landed.
Flight attendants were also able to extinguish the fire by placing the phone into a fire containment bag but the device quickly filled the cabin with smoke and a full-scale evacuation was ordered.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.