Planning an Escape

By Robert N. Rossier, EAA 472091

This piece originally ran in Robert’s Stick and Rudder column in the November 2021 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.

Escape. It’s something we’ve all been looking for. Over the summer, unprecedented numbers of people escaped to the great outdoors by car, camper, and RV. Others of us made our escape by air — perhaps flying to remote wilderness locations to enjoy the solitude, a bit of hiking, some fishing, sitting by the campfire, and stargazing. Now, as we navigate into the holiday season, we once again take to the air to escape, to view the fall foliage, or to visit friends and family.

As we pack for our overdue travels, we need to think carefully about what we carry aboard the aircraft. Many items we might normally carry on a trip can present an undue hazard in an airplane. And a few thousand feet in the air is not where we want to be when hazardous materials unexpectedly spill, smolder, or ignite.

Although we might be familiar with the restrictions imposed on commercial air travel regarding hazardous materials, we might not have considered that some of those same items, many of which are common household items, could pose a hazard on our aircraft. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), under Title 49 CFR, is the regulatory authority for transport of all hazardous materials by air taxi/charter; on passenger airlines; and on all cargo operations under FAR Parts 91, 121, and 135; as well as by private aircraft.

Although those of us operating under Part 91 are not required to receive training or certification regarding the transport of hazardous materials, we should be aware of the limitations, exemptions, and special handling requirements for such materials when carried on general aviation aircraft.

A recent camping trip made me realize just how many typical camping items should be scrutinized or perhaps eliminated from our equipment list. Propane tanks for camp stoves, solid fuels for cooking stoves, aerosol cooking spray, batteries, alcohol, firearms, bear spray, and even a few items we might stow in our survival kit can all pose serious risks. The truth is that any time we fly, and no matter where we’re going or why, we need to be careful about what we bring on board. When traveling with friends and family, we should make them aware of the items to avoid packing.

Whether we’re camping or traveling for the holidays, we need to be aware of the items that can create chaos in the air. According to the DOT, many items require special precautions or cannot be carried aboard an aircraft at all. Consider the following partial listing:

Flammable Liquids and Aerosols

  • Flammable aerosols, including spray paint, cooking sprays, and spray lubricants are generally not allowed aboard aircraft.
  • Gasoline and equipment with fuel in it (including vapors or residue) are prohibited.
  • Lighter refills, lighter fluid, charcoal starter, and alcohol greater than 140 proof (70 percent alcohol) are all flammable. If spilled, they can create a severe fire risk. Other flammable substances to keep on our no-fly list include oils and oil-based paint.
  • Although oxygen concentrators can be carried, oxygen bottles are prohibited. A release of oxygen greatly increases flammability, exacerbating the risk of any potential ignition source such as an electrical spark.

Ignition Hazards

  • Lithium-ion batteries with a rating of more than 300 watt-hours should not be carried. These items have a sordid history of spontaneous ignition, even when physical damage is not evident. Overheating and pressurization, perhaps caused by internal shorting, may be one cause of the many incidents that have occurred.
  • Loose, unprotected batteries represent an ignition hazard. Batteries should have their terminals protected to prevent shorting.
  • Diving lamps and other heat-generating equipment should be stowed with the batteries removed to prevent the risk of ignition.

Firearms, Ammunition, and Fireworks

  • Loose ammunition and loaded firearms can present a serious hazard. Firearms and ammunition should be stored separately, with ammunition securely packed in fiber, wood, or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.
  • Fireworks are prohibited.

Corrosive Materials

  • Wet cell batteries, including car, boat, and motorcycle batteries, pose a special hazard. The fluid in which the plates of the cells are immersed is a powerful acid. If it spills, noxious fumes are emitted and serious damage can occur to the aircraft.
  • Cleaning solvents and solutions can be corrosive and emit harmful fumes.
  • Bleach is corrosive and a powerful oxidant. Leave it at home.

Asphyxiants and Other Health Hazards

  • Bear spray or self-defense spray, in quantities greater than 4 ounces, are prohibited. If you’ve ever had an encounter with the business end of bear spray, you might decide you would rather deal with a bear. In the close quarters of an aircraft cockpit, even a minor release could be incapacitating.
  • Pesticides and insecticides are off-limits. Insect repellant can be carried; just be certain the container has a protective cover to prevent accidental discharge.
  • Dry ice (carbon dioxide) displaces oxygen, so while it might smother a fire, it can also extinguish life.
  • CO2 cartridges and cylinders with a volume exceeding 50 milliliters (larger than a 28-gram carbon dioxide cartridge) are no-go items.

Allowed Items

Despite the long list of prohibited hazardous materials, a wide variety of items can be safely carried aboard private aircraft in limited quantities. While we might not find a list of items specifically allowed for private aircraft, we can reference the list of items allowed by the DOT for passengers and crew. Such items include toiletry or medicinal articles like rubbing alcohol, flammable perfume and colognes, nail polish and remover, hairspray, shaving cream, sunscreen, and insect repellent. However, aerosol sprays must be protected from inadvertent release. The DOT also allows up to 5 liters of beverages with an alcohol content of more than 24 percent but not more than 70 percent in unopened retail packages.

Also allowed is one packet of safety matches (regular matches), one lighter (gas/butane or absorbed liquid/Zippo-style), and one small (4 ounces or less) self-defense spray protected from accidental activation. E-cigarettes and other vaping devices can be carried on our person only.

Small arms ammunition up to 19.1 mm (.75 caliber) is allowed when securely boxed. Again, loaded firearms cannot be carried aboard an aircraft.

A life jacket or similar vest containing up to two small nonflammable gas cartridges is allowed, plus two spare cartridges. This is welcome news when contemplating flights over water.

Portable electronics are everywhere, and the batteries installed in these devices are exempt. However, any spare batteries must be protected from damage and short circuit with battery terminals protected from contacting other metals.

One of the great pleasures of being a pilot is the ability to escape — to get away by air, explore new locations, and visit family and friends. But enough things can go wrong when we’re flying an airplane. The last thing we need is to have an emergency that forces us to escape from the aircraft. So, let’s not forget to maintain a safety mindset and awareness of what should and should not be carried along with us on our getaways.

Robert N. Rossier, EAA 472091, has been flying for more than 30 years and has worked as a flight instructor, commercial pilot, chief pilot, and FAA flight check airman.

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