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A pallet full of smartphones caught fire and was destroyed at Hong Kong airport, early on Sunday. There were no reported injuries.

Details of the incident are still unclear. However it seems that a pallet full of smartphones caught fire, while sitting at the apron at Hong Kong International Airport (VHHH). Some post-incident photos show multiple boxes with ‘VIVO’ branding. This indicates that the pallet included smartphones, either wholly or in part.

Pallet With Smartphones On Fire At Hong Kong Airport

Crews were about to load the pallet full of smartphones on a Hong Kong Air Cargo Airbus A330F. Reports indicate that the aircraft would fly this shipment to Bangkok in Thailand. Hong Kong Air Cargo is a subsidiary of Hong Kong Airlines, and now operates an all-Airbus fleet. Hong Kong Air Cargo have been operating with a separate AOC, as a cargo operator, since 2017. They have five A330-200 freighters.

 

Flying Pallets With Smartphones And Lithium Batteries

Fortunately there is no reported damage to the aircraft, as the smartphones pallet wasn’t too close. However Hong Kong Air quickly reacted to the incident, by refusing all cargo shipments from two logistics companies. They will also refuse to accept any ‘VIVO’-brand mobile phones. These actions will apply until further notice – presumably until they know more details about the circumstances of the incident.

Pallet With Smartphones On Fire At Hong Kong Airport

Picture by Hong-Kong Air Cargo

There are severe restrictions in aviation, with regards to lithium batteries and any products that use them. There is a lot of detail in these rules, regarding the types of batteries and how many of them can be together. We can carry our smartphones and tablets on passenger jets, but large volumes of them only travel in pallets, on freighter aircraft. These batteries fall under “dangerous goods”, and the same restrictions also apply to drones, laptops and other power-hungry electric tools.

Unfortunately, it’s not just pallets with smartphones that could present fire risks in aviation. Companies and agencies developing electric aircraft and technologies for them, are all too aware of these issues. Technologies around the capacity and weight of batteries are evolving quickly, which is great for everyone. However, applying these technologies on certified aircraft and urban mobility vehicles, involves overcoming significant safety hurdles.

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