FedEx says system effective against lithium fires
FedEx Express said it is installing an onboard automatic fire-suppression system on its MD-11 international aircraft fleet that it said is effective against lithium fires.
In August, the Air Line Pilots Association International called on the U.S. government to prohibit shipments of lithium batteries on passenger and all-cargo aircraft until new regulations are in place to ensure the safe transport of what it said were hazardous materials.
FedEx began installing the systems in April and expects to have completed installation on 59 MD-11 aircraft in early 2011. FedEx also plans to install the firefighting system on new Boeing 777 freighters, which begin international service in the company's fleet in early 2010. In all, 74 FedEx widebody planes used for international, over-water flights will be upgraded with the technology.
The system uses a network of infrared thermal sensors, foaming-agent generators and an overhead cargo-container injector. If sensors detect heat, the fire suppression technology located above each cargo container is activated, simultaneously alerting crewmembers. The metal container is pierced by an injector apparatus and filled with an argon-based biodegradable and non-corrosive fire-suppression foam that FedEx said will control and extinguish the fire in minutes.
It said the system will extinguish Class A, B, and D fires. Class A materials are ordinary materials such as paper or lumber, Class B materials are flammable liquids such as gasoline or kerosene, and Class D materials are combustible metals such as lithium, magnesium titanium, potassium and sodium which burn at extremely high temperatures.
FedEx said no other aircraft fire-safety system in use today is effective against Class D fires. Shipments that are subject to what would be considered “Class C” fires, electrical equipment, for example, will continue to be carried separately in the aircraft's lower belly compartment, and are safeguarded with industry-standard halon bottle system.
Mark Rogers, director of the pilot union’s dangerous goods programs, said “evidence of a clear and present danger is mounting” relating to lithium batteries, and called for an immediate ban to protect airline passengers, crews and cargo.' The union pointed to three incidents this year which took place in this year in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Honolulu that were similar to a 2006 battery fire aboard a DC-8 in Philadelphia.