Boeing Co. (BA)’s 787 Dreamliner jets, grounded this year when batteries overheated, face no immediate threat of being parked again after an onboard fire at London’s Heathrow airport, the European Aviation Safety Agency said.
The world’s largest planemaker also has signaled that it doesn’t expect a grounding order because of the July 12 blaze on the Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise Dreamliner, according to an official at a 787 customer who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public.
Those assessments were offered yesterday as Boeing and Dreamliner operators including Japan’s ANA Holdings Inc. (9202) awaited a report from the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch on the incident. It was the most-serious setback for Boeing’s marquee jet since regulators ordered the global 787 fleet idled for three months to fix lithium-ion battery meltdowns.
“It’s too early to say if the aircraft could be grounded,” said Dominique Fouda, a spokesman for Cologne, Germany-based EASA, which is providing advice to U.K. officials. “We’re prepared to take action in our area of responsibility in case it is demonstrated that there is an unsafe condition, which is not the case so far.”
Honeywell International Inc. (HON), maker of an emergency beacon situated close to where the blaze occurred on the empty 787, is assisting the AAIB inquiry, as are Chicago-based Boeing, U.S. safety specialists and Ethiopian Airlines, which continues to operate its three other Dreamliners.
The U.K. safety agency said it had no further comment yesterday on the status of the fire probe. An initial review showed no “direct causal” link between the fire and the earlier battery faults, the AAIB said July 13.
Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace consultant, cautioned against drawing conclusions about what caused the latest blaze until regulators issue their findings. “I think it’s still wide open,” he said in a telephone interview.
The 3-pound, 3-ounce (1.5 kilogram) Honeywell transmitter, encased in an aluminum alloy box, seems an unlikely cause for a blaze hot enough to have scorched the Dreamliner’s composite skin, said Aboulafia, a vice president at Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group.
Boeing isn’t commenting on discussions with customers or the U.K. inquiry, said Doug Alder, a spokesman. The shares rose 0.5 percent yesterday to $104.79, leaving them short of the pre-fire peak of $106.88 on July 11 that marked the highest close since July 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Alder also declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report, which cited a person it didn’t identify, that U.K. regulators may suggest removing the emergency locator transmitter from 787s as a precautionary measure while the investigation continues.
While Honeywell would support regulators if they back the devices’ temporary removal, it hasn’t gotten instructions to do so, Steve Brecken, a spokesman, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News in response to that report. The shares of the Morris Township, New Jersey-based company gained 0.5 percent to $82.44.
“We haven’t heard of anyone being invited by the AAIB to participate in the investigation but Honeywell,” Michel Merluzeau, a consultant at G2 Solutions in Kirkland, Washington, said in a phone interview. The fire probably will “turn out to be a serious event that fortunately has no significant impact on the continuing return to normality with the 787’s production.”
Boeing had delivered 66 Dreamliners to 11 airlines and a leasing company through June, including six to United Airlines, the world’s largest carrier and a unit of United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL) The 787, which has a list price of $206.8 million in its cheapest version, has won 930 firm orders.
Ethiopian has seen no recurrence of the 787 problem in its other planes, the Addis Ababa-based carrier said yesterday in response to questions. United, Thomson Airways, LOT Polish Airlines SA, ANA and Air India Ltd. also were among carriers reporting that Dreamliner service continued as normal.
Indian authorities are in touch with Boeing over the Heathrow incident, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said yesterday in an interview in New Delhi, while China’s Hainan Airlines Co. (600221) said it also was in contact with the planemaker. Hainan Airlines received the first of 10 Dreamliners on July 4.
“Jetstar has been briefed by Boeing,” a spokesman, Andrew McGinnes, said by e-mail. “Our first priority will always be ensuring these aircraft are completely safe to fly.”
The delivery date for the first Jetstar 787 was put back a month from a target of August after the earlier grounding.
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