Would an Airline Laptop Ban Increase the Risk of Flying?

From the Los Angeles Times:

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.

Indeed. Here’s FAA data on known fires from lithium-ion batteries on passenger flights:

Battery fires have skyrocketed since 2015. When they’re in the passenger compartment, they can usually be extinguished without too much trouble. But if they’re in the cargo hold, there’s a greater risk of a battery explosion causing major damage—and possible loss of life—before it’s put out.

Ironically, this is an example of something I was complaining about yesterday: comparing deaths from terrorism with deaths from accidents like bathtub falls. In this case, though, it’s a live question. What are the odds of a plane going down because a terrorist has smuggled an explosive onto a plane inside a laptop computer? And what are the odds of a plane going down because of a laptop battery fire in a cargo hold?

I assume the chances of the latter are small, since it’s never happened. Then again, the chances of the former are pretty minuscule too. Has anyone tried to do a hazard analysis of this? Are there better ways of making sure electronic devices don’t contain explosives? And how do you factor in the loss of convenience from banning laptops? Those are good questions. Anyone have any answers?


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