Hoverboard danger sparks safety alert and airline bans

Ten-year-old Ren Imaizumi riding a hoverboard at the Sports Hub. There have been reports of such devices exploding.
Ten-year-old Ren Imaizumi riding a hoverboard at the Sports Hub. There have been reports of such devices exploding.PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Airlines around the world have started to clamp down on hoverboards - or self-balancing e-scooters - by banning travellers from bringing them on board flights.

Separately, Spring Singapore has also cautioned consumers to make sure that the power adaptors of the hoverboards they buy come with its Safety Mark, to ensure they have been tested and certified.

The moves have come amid safety concerns over the device, with reports of exploding hoverboards in Britain and the United States leading online retailer Amazon to pull several brands from its store.

Hoverboards are said to be among the hottest gifts this holiday season, with local retailers saying they have sold hundreds of units in the past months.

In a statement, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said it had stopped passengers from taking hoverboards on all its flights, starting yesterday.

It joins a growing list of airlines, including its subsidiary Tiger Airways, Jetstar, Qantas, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific, that have banned the device for safety reasons, owing to the lithium ion batteries that power the boards.

Other personal mobility devices such as e-scooters or unicycles that also use lithium ion batteries are banned as well.

These batteries, which are used in laptop computers, cannot be packed in checked luggage if they are not inside the computer.

Retailers said many Chinese manufacturers that make budget models of hoverboards use substandard batteries that could fail and catch fire. They are often sold on websites like Alibaba and Taobao for as little as $150.

"The cost of a good battery already exceeds that price," said Mr Dato Ong, chief operating officer of Rendezvous CWAL, which sells hoverboards priced at about $600.

Another retailer which has them at about the same price, Hoverboard Singapore, said good lithium ion batteries are typically made by reputed manufacturers such as LG or Samsung.

"It's good, now customers are more aware. The first question they typically ask now is whether the batteries are from China," said Hoverboard Singapore director Chris Ong.

Both retailers said interest in this "cool new toy" started about six months ago. As it is so new, there are no established brands yet.

The self-balancing, two-wheeled electric boards have a top speed of about 10kmh, about as fast as human running speed, said Mr Chris Ong.

Spring Singapore advised consumers here to check the boards before they buy them.

"The Safety Mark helps consumers identify products that have been tested and certified to meet safety requirements," said a Spring Singapore spokesman.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'Hoverboard danger sparks safety alert and airline bans'. Print Edition | Subscribe