Damage From Boeing 787 Fire Not Tied to Battery: U.K.

A fire on board a Boeing Co. (BA) 787 Dreamliner parked at London’s Heathrow airport yesterday doesn’t appear to be related to the battery system malfunction that grounded the long-haul aircraft fleet earlier this year, a U.K. regulator said today.

“At this stage, there is no evidence of a direct causal relationship,” the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said in a statement today on its website.

Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise, the plane’s operator, said it’s still flying its three other 787s while awaiting the results of the probe led by the AAIB, the investigations unit of the U.K.’s aviation regulator. Boeing, in an e-mailed statement, said it has a team on the ground at Heathrow and that any future information related to the probe will either come from or be approved by the AAIB.

Yesterday’s incident renewed safety concerns about the Dreamliner and is a blow to Chicago-based Boeing as it tries to restore confidence in the 787, which was grounded worldwide in January after the melting of lithium-ion batteries on two of the planes. The stock had its biggest drop in two years yesterday.

“It’s a dodged bullet, but there are plenty of other ways to get injured,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with Teal Group, a Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant. While no one was on board the Ethiopian Airlines 787 and there were no injuries, investigators haven’t determined what caused the fire and it potentially opens to review other systems in Boeing’s newest and most technologically-advanced aircraft.

Rear Fuselage Damage

The U.K. agency said its probe will likely take several days and that in addition to Boeing, it has invited the participation of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, Ethiopian civil aviation authorities and the airline. The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency were also invited.

The Dreamliner sustained “extensive heat damage in the upper portion of the rear fuselage, a complex part of the aircraft,” the AAIB said. The plane is currently being housed in a hangar at Heathrow.

Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, New York, said repairing the damage will be complicated, if it is even repairable. “Every current and prospective operator will be looking at the outcome,” he said in an e-mail.

Operating as Scheduled

Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL), the only U.S. carrier to fly the Dreamliner, and Japanese airline ANA Holdings (9202) said today they were operating their 787 aircraft as scheduled.

TUI Travel Plc (TT/)’s charter arm Thomson Airways Ltd. said one of its 787s turned back to Manchester, England, yesterday because of an unspecified fault after it left for Orlando Sanford International Airport in Florida. That same flight took off on schedule today, said John Greenway, an airport official in Manchester.

While a “small number” of components was replaced, Thomson isn’t disclosing details, Marc Heley, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement. The company’s two other 787s were scheduled to fly from London’s Gatwick Airport, according to the statement.

Boeing slid 4.7 percent to $101.87 at yesterday’s close in New York, the biggest daily decline since Aug. 18, 2011. Earlier in the day, before news of the fire, the stock reached an intraday record high of $108.15. The shares have risen 35 percent this year, as the Standard & Poor’s 500 gained 18 percent.

To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Johnsson in Chicago at jjohnsson@bloomberg.net; Robert Wall in London at rwall6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jennifer Sondag at jsondag@bloomberg.net; Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net

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