Top U.S. airlines ban hoverboards due to fire risk

Victoria Bryan and Jeffrey Dastin, Reuters

Posted at Dec 12 2015 12:06 AM

GENEVA/NEW YORK - Hoverboards may be on many people's Christmas lists but they present a conundrum for airlines, which are mulling the best way to transport the popular devices that could present a fire risk.

The three largest U.S. airlines, American Airlines Group Inc , United Continental Holdings Inc and Delta Air Lines Inc, each said Thursday they are banning hoverboards starting this week in carry-on and checked baggage out of safety considerations.

American spokesman Casey Norton cited an ongoing investigation into hoverboards by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The federal agency is looking into at least 10 reports of hoverboard fires in nine states, said spokeswoman Patty Davis. The changes in carriers' baggage policy also coincided with comments from the top global airline association Thursday that addressed hoverboard hazards.

Hoverboards do not in fact hover, but are two-wheeled devices also known as self-balancing scooters or swegways. They have prompted a host of warnings from authorities, and not just because people may fall off them.

Earlier this year, police in Britain warned people it was illegal to ride the devices on both public roads and pavements, meaning people must stick to their own private land to try them.

Britain's National Trading Standards said this month 88 percent of 17,000 self-balancing scooters examined at UK entry points were deemed to be unsafe, with an increased risk of overheating, exploding or catching fire.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has recommended that self-balancing scooters be carried only in cabin baggage, but it remains up to each airline to decide their exact policy.

"Each airline has to make a risk-based analysis to decide if these items are to be transported or not, what mitigating measures are to be applied to permit carriage of those items," Gilberto Lopez Meyer, senior vice president for safety and flight operations at IATA, said Thursday in Geneva.

IATA says the devices should be classed as personal electronic devices and says factors to be taken into consideration include the size of the lithium ion battery.

However, Delta said in a news release that manufacturers do not consistently provide details about the batteries' power.

The air industry has prior experience with the problem of transporting consignments of lithium ion batteries, which are used in everything from phones to toys.

The UN aviation safety arm ICAO has proposed that when lithium ion batteries are transported as cargo, they should be no more than 30-percent charged to reduce fire risk.