Federal Aviation Administration to order inspections for 787s after London fire

By Matt Tomsic
Published July 22, 2013

The Federal Aviation Administration is planning to order airlines to inspect the emergency locator transmitters on its Dreamliners following a fire aboard an Ethiopian Airlines 787, the federal agency announced Saturday.

“These inspections would ask operators to inspect for proper wire routing and any signs of wire damage or pinching as well as inspect the battery compartment for unusual signs of heating or moisture,” according to the FAA’s statement.

The agency is preparing to issue an airworthiness directive in the next several days, and its statement comes in response to the United Kingdom’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch findings, which were released Thursday.

The branch found extensive heat damage around the airplane’s emergency locator transmitter and noted that no other nearby aircraft systems had the power to create the fire that damaged the airplane.

Honeywell manufactures the transmitter and has made 6,000 of them, which have been installed on a variety of aircraft. The investigation branch said the Ethiopian Airlines’ fire is the only significant incident to occur with one of the transmitters and recommended airlines turn off the transmitters until another safety recommendation can be made, and it also released more details about the fire.

On July 12, the 787 caught fire while at Heathrow Airport. The airplane was unoccupied after arriving from Addis Ababa and was awaiting its next service later in the day. Its power systems had been turned off.

About 10 hours after the flight arrived, someone in the air traffic control tower noticed smoke coming from the airplane and hit the crash alarm. The Airport Fire Service arrived a minute later, using foam and water to put out the fire.

Firefighters noticed thick smoke inside the airplane, and that smoke grew denser as they moved to the back of the 787, where they found the fire above the ceiling panels.

Firefighters removed the panels and extinguished the fire.

No one was injured.

Boeing supports the recommendations by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, calling them “reasonable precautionary measures,” according to a statement released by the company.

“We are working proactively to support the regulatory authorities in taking appropriate action in response to these recommendations, in coordination with our customers, suppliers and other commercial airplane manufacturers,” according to the statement. “We are confident the 787 is safe, and we stand behind its overall integrity.”

Reach Matt Tomsic at 843-849-3144.

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