Electronic smoking devices are back in the spotlight after a malfunctioning e-cigarette caused an American Airlines plane to divert on Thursday.
American Flight 1129 was about an hour into its journey to Indianapolis from Dallas-Fort Worth when the e-cigarette overheated and started emitting smoke.
Passenger Gina Wood told the Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth that another passenger’s e-cigarette battery pack began “smoking and sparking.”
Flight attendants put the battery pack in the first-class lavatory of the MD-80 and used a fire extinguisher several times, Wood said.
However, there were conflicting reports that the passenger was trying to use the e-cigarette in a toilet when it malfunctioned.
The plane, carrying 137 passengers and five crew, diverted to Little Rock, Arkansas, and a replacement plane was sent to Little Rock to allow passengers to continue their journey.
The US Federal Aviation Administration last year issued new rules clamping down on electronic smoking devices, which are powered by a lithium battery and contain a heating element to vaporise liquid.
Under the rules, passengers in the US are allowed to carry e-cigarettes or similar electronic smoking devices in the cabin but not to pack them in checked baggage. They are prohibited from using or charging them during a flight.
The crackdown came after several incidents in which e-cigarettes overheated or caught fire when the heating element was accidentally activated.
In August, 2014, an e-cigarette in checked baggage stowed in an airliner’s cargo hold caused a fire that forced an evacuation of the aircraft.
The FAA warned the danger may be increased “when users modify and rebuild their reusable e-cigarette devices and interchange original and aftermarket batteries, heating elements, and vaporizing components”.
“We know from recent incidents that e-cigarettes in checked bags can catch fire during transport,” outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at the time. “Fire hazards in flight are particularly dangerous. Banning e-cigarettes from checked bags is a prudent safety measure.
There have been worries for some time about the potential for “thermal overruns’’ to cause devices powered by lithium batteries to overheat or catch fire.
Samsung earlier this year was forced to recall and then scrap the Galaxy Note 7 because of problems with overheating batteries. Carrying surviving Note 7s on airlines is now banned.