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Boeing Expands Beacon Probe Beyond 787s to Global Fleet

Boeing Urges More Jet Beacon Checks After 787 Faults Found
A Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner aircraft operated by All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA), top, taxis on the tarmac at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

July 29 (Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co., seeking to widen a safety review of the 787 Dreamliner, urged airlines to inspect emergency beacons on a range of planes beyond the model that suffered an onboard fire linked to one of the units.

Operators of Boeing’s 717, 737 Next Generation, 747-400, 767 and 777s should check aircraft equipped with fixed emergency locator transmitters made by Honeywell International Inc., Marketing Vice President Randy Tinseth said yesterday on a blog post. Chicago-based Boeing still makes the 737NG, 767 and 777.

The recommendation expands the scrutiny of the ELTs past the 787, the target of a three-month global grounding this year after two of the jets experienced meltdowns in their lithium-ion batteries. Officials are seeking whether a short circuit in a lithium-battery powered ELT caused the July 12 blaze on a parked 787 in London, according to a person familiar with the probe.

“It may turn out to be unique to the 787,” Robert Mann, president of aviation consultant R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, New York, said by phone. “But I can understand the decision to look at how the ELT was integrated in each case.”

In checks of Dreamliners last week, ANA Holdings Inc. found a dented wire in a fixed beacon and another in a portable unit, and removed all the devices from eight Dreamliners used on domestic routes. United Airlines also reported a pinched wire in a 787 ELT, which it replaced and returned to the manufacturer.

The lithium batteries in the ELTs have different chemistry than the lithium-ion batteries that were the focus of the global grounding order. Those cells are tied into the Dreamliner’s power system.

U.K. Recommendations

Boeing is taking the action after the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch recommended that planes with fixed Honeywell beacons be inspected, Tinseth said. There have been about 6,000 Honeywell beacons installed on aircraft, according to the AAIB.

“At this point in the investigation, no one has conclusively determined what caused the fire,” Steve Brecken, a Honeywell spokesman, said by e-mail. “The recent recommendations from regulatory authorities regarding inspections of our ELTs are precautionary and we fully support those recommendations.”

The probe of the latest 787 fire will take several months before a “root cause is finally determined,” Brecken said. Honeywell has supplied ELTs since the mid-2000s and has never had reports of any fire or heat-related issues, he said.

Airbus Review

Airbus SAS is reviewing its own integration of Honeywell’s ELTs as a precautionary measure, according to Marcella Muratore, a spokeswoman. A first look at the records “does not show any incident” of the nature seen on the Dreamliner, she said.

Boeing fell 0.7 percent to $104.81 at the close in New York, for the fourth straight day of declines, the longest streak since April. Morris Township, New Jersey-based Honeywell slid less than 1 percent to $82.76.

While the U.K. officials had recommended that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration require the disabling of the beacons on Dreamliners and review other ELTs powered by lithium batteries, the FAA issued a directive last week requiring only inspections of the units on the 787s.

Tinseth said the checks urged by Boeing are to “gather data to support potential rulemaking by regulators.” The beacons are separate from flight and voice data recorders, known as black boxes, which have their own location transmitters.

“This is a precautionary measure,” Howard Rubel, a Jefferies LLC analyst in New York who rates Boeing a buy, said by phone. “It remains a very safe fleet.”

U.K. Probe

The fire aboard the Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise 787 at London’s Heathrow airport revived concern that the Dreamliner may be at greater risk for electrical faults because of a power system carrying more current than on conventional jets. U.K. investigators didn’t tie the fire to the beacons, saying in a July 18 report that the blaze “coincides” with the ELT’s location on the jet and that the probe continues.

ANA, the biggest operator of 787s, already started checks on other planes with Honeywell beacons last week after completing inspections on its fleet of Dreamliners, said Maho Ito, a Tokyo-based spokeswoman at the carrier.

United, a unit of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc., has about 100 planes with the Honeywell ELTs that need inspections, and expects no effect on operations as it performs the work, Christen David, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

AMR Corp.’s American Airlines is looking at its 777-300 fleet and a portion of its 737 fleet, said Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman. These will be accomplished during regular work as the aircraft will not need to be taken out of service, she said.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. is inspecting ELTs on its wide-body 777s and “will provide the inspection results to Boeing,” according to an e-mailed statement today.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Cooper in Tokyo at ccooper1@bloomberg.net; Kiyotaka Matsuda in Tokyo at kmatsuda@bloomberg.net; Leslie Picker in New York at lpicker2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Vipin V. Nair at vnair12@bloomberg.net; Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net

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