An investigation into a 2011 Asiana Airlines fire prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to call for stricter rules about the transport of lithium-ion batteries. The batteries in question are used in a number of applications, including cell phones, laptops and cars. The rechargeable batteries can heat up and ignite if they become damaged or are exposed to extreme temperatures. Proper storage and packaging of these batteries is necessary to combat the risk of fire.
In 2011, a Boeing 747 used for transporting freight by Asiana Airlines crashed into the South China Sea. The pilots reported a fire seventeen minutes before the plane went down. The investigation was not able to determine conclusively what ignited the fire. The crash investigation was able to determine that the fire on or close to a pallet containing the rechargeable batteries and another pallet carrying flammable liquids. The NTSB is asking the government to provide guidelines requiring that lithium-ion batteries be kept apart from flammable cargo.
The Federal Aviation Administration sets rules for the transport of hazardous materials, but has so far declined to include batteries in those restrictions. The FAA has issued a safety alert to air carriers regarding rechargeable batteries. The agency has requested that air carriers conduct risk assessments regarding transporting the batteries on passenger planes. It is a common practice among commercial airlines to carry some freight in addition to transporting passengers and their luggage. The NTSB's calls for stricter rules would apply to both passenger planes and cargo planes.
Sources: The Register-Guard, "NTSB: New rules needed to prevent disastrous battery fires on planes," by The Associated Press, 10 February 2016