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Fire and tech problem strike two more 787 Dreamliners

July 15, 2013 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Boeing 787 Dreamliners have run into yet more trouble, with one operated by Ethiopian Airlines catching fire on the ground while empty at London’s Heathrow airport on Friday, and another having to turn around mid-flight because of a technical glitch.

The incidents came within hours of each other. A Florida-bound Dreamliner operated by Thomson Airways was forced to return to Manchester because of “technical issues”. Thomson Airways became the first British carrier to operate the aircraft type just last week. Thomson has seven more 787s on order.

A battery overheating problem grounded Dreamliners worldwide for three months earlier this year, so any suggestion of a recurrence triggers jitters among airlines and investors. Boeing’s stock dived by 7% after the latest hitches.

The Ethiopian Airlines problem triggered an emergency at Heathrow and closed the extremely busy airport’s runways for 90 minutes, delaying other flights by up to six hours. The fire on the Ethiopian Dreamliner tied up Heathrow’s emergency firefighting crews, meaning none would have been available to cope with any emergency affecting a plane taking off or landing. Hence the decision to close the runways.

Ethiopian Airlines said its plane had been parked quietly at Heathrow for eight hours before smoke was seen. In January, a fire broke out aboard an empty Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner in Boston. That was traced to a lithium-ion battery overheating, but the Ethiopian Airlines fire has not been linked to battery problems. Fires breaking out on parked, unattended aircraft are rare.

Latest reports say the Ethiopian Airlines fire broke out in a part of the aircraft away from where the controversial batteries are stowed.

“There has been extensive heat damage in the upper portion of the rear fuselage, a complex part of the aircraft, and the initial investigation is likely to take several days,” Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) of the Department for Transport stated.

“However, it is clear that this heat damage is remote from the area in which the aircraft main and APU (auxiliary power unit) batteries are located, and, at this stage, there is no evidence of a direct causal relationship.”

A thorough investigation is under way. It involves Boeing, the AAIB, the US Federal Aviation Administration and the US National Transportation Safety Board. Ethiopian Airlines is taking part too, though the carrier is not suspending operations after the incident.

The Dreamliner’s development has been plagued with delays. Originally due to enter passenger service in 2008, it first flew commercially in 2011.

Written by Peter Needham

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