As the U.S. government considers expanding a ban on laptop computers and other electronic devices from the cabins of commercial flights, federal data show that storing such devices in the cargo area of a plane could increase the risk of fires.
Federal Aviation Administration statistics indicate that airplane fires involving lithium batteries are on the rise.
In 2014, the FAA reported that such batteries were responsible for nine fires, extreme heat or smoke on cargo and passenger planes. That number grew to 16 in 2015; 31 in 2016 and 17 in the first five months of 2017.
Most of the fires or overheated devices were doused with water or coffee or sprayed with a fire extinguisher. Three flights were diverted because of battery fires in that period.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a House of Representatives panel Wednesday that he is considering expanding the electronic-device ban to 71 additional international airports.
The devices aren't allowed in cabins of flights originating in 10 airports, primarily in the Middle East. Kelly didn't name the additional airports under consideration.
The restrictions stem from news reports that terrorists may be able to hide explosives in electronic devices but cannot detonate them remotely. The restrictions require passengers to store laptops and other electronics larger than a cellphone in their checked luggage in the cargo compartment.
During his testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Kelly said he was aware of the fire danger involving the batteries and hoped foreign airports would increase their screening techniques to avoid the need to expand the electronics ban.
"There's a lot of talk out there that lithium batteries are dangerous in and of themselves, that they just burst into flames," he said. "So we are also dealing with that as well."