Honeywell Joins Probe on 787 Fire as Beacon Faces Scrutiny
An emergency beacon made by Honeywell International Inc. (HON) is under scrutiny in a probe of last week’s Boeing Co. 787 fire at London’s Heathrow airport.
The U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch said today it’s looking at the emergency locater transmitter situated near the back of the Dreamliner where the July 12 fire occurred.
“We can confirm that Honeywell have been invited to join the investigation,” the AAIB said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The ELT is one of several components being looked at in detail as part of the investigation. It would be premature to speculate on the causes of the incident at this stage.”
Boeing is working to revive the reputation of its 787 fleet, which was grounded worldwide earlier this year after lithium-ion batteries overheated on two aircraft. Boeing shares yesterday recovered most of their loss from July 12, the day of the blaze on board the parked Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise 787 at London Heathrow. Honeywell makes dozens of components for the aircraft, from distance measuring equipment to tail-cone lights.
A fire related to a conventional product such as a transmitter, instead of the new technologies used on the Dreamliner, would take pressure off Boeing, said Hans Weber, chief executive officer of Tecop International Inc., a San Diego-based aerospace consulting company.
“That’s conventional technology,” Weber said in a telephone interview. “It would be an off-the-shelf product.”
Still, it’s too early to speculate on the cause, Weber said. Fire investigations on aircraft often take longer because officials have to sift through the damage carefully so as not to destroy evidence, he said.
The AAIB had said previously its probe included Ethiopian Airlines, Boeing (BA) and other European and U.S. aviation agencies. “The travelling public can be sure we are investigating all possible causes and following up all leads,” it said today.
Honeywell’s emergency beacons have been certified for use since 2005 without a single reported issue, Steve Brecken, a spokesman for the company, wrote in an e-mail. Morris Township, New Jersey-based Honeywell has sent technical experts to Heathrow to help with the probe and “at this time it is premature to speculate on the cause of the fire.”
Brecken said Honeywell will work with Chicago-based Boeing and the AAIB as well as the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to assist in determining the cause of the fire.
Honeywell fell less than 1 percent to $82.03 at the close in New York. The stock dropped yesterday after Dow Jones reported scrutiny of the beacon. Boeing fell 1.4 percent to $104.23 and has surged 38 percent this year.
Japanese airlines, the first operators of Boeing’s 787, said they checked their fleets and found nothing unusual.
ANA Holdings Inc. (9202), operator of the world’s largest 787 fleet, completed inspections of its 20 Dreamliners yesterday, spokeswoman Megumi Tezuka said.
Japan Airlines Co. (9201), which operates nine 787s, also said its inspections of the planes yesterday found nothing unusual, according to spokesman Taro Namba.
GS Yuasa Corp. (6674), the Kyoto, Japan-based maker of some batteries used in the 787, has not been asked to cooperate in the probe, spokesman Hiroharu Nakano said. The company had been involved in previous investigations regarding lithium-ion batteries after some it made for the 787 overheated, leading to a grounding of the entire Dreamliner fleet.
Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (7270), the Tokyo-based supplier of center wing boxes for the 787, was not involved in the latest probe, said spokesman Fusao Watanabe.
Thales SA (HO), which provides electrical power conversion technology to the 787, isn’t involved in the investigaton, spokesman Alexandre Perra said in an e-mail.
No one was on board the Ethiopian Airlines plane at the time of the fire, and the carrier is still flying its three other 787s while awaiting the results of the probe.
Emergency locater transmitters emit a radio signal after a crash to help rescuers find the plane. They are equipped with a lithium-manganese battery, a form of rechargeable lithium-ion technology, according to the official.
The battery has a different chemical formulation from the larger lithium batteries implicated in the two incidents in January that prompted U.S. regulators to ground the fleet. All lithium-ion batteries are made with flammable material.
The beacon, which weighs 6.6 pounds, has a service life of 10 years and should run for 50 hours once activated. The device is built to withstand operating temperatures from minus 20 to plus 55 Celsius, Honeywell said on its website.
Earlier ELTs broadcast a tone over an air-traffic radio frequency. Newer models broadcast a global-positioning system location to satellites, which then notify ground stations of a possible crash and its whereabouts. They are equipped with a battery so they can continue to broadcast after a crash.
Through June, Boeing had delivered 66 787s to 11 airlines and a leasing company, including six to United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL) The Dreamliner has a list price of $206.8 million.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration restricted the fleet from flying on Jan. 16 after the lithium-ion batteries overheated on two aircraft, with one catching fire in Boston with no passengers aboard.
In that incident, a Japan Airlines Co. 787 experienced what U.S. safety investigators called an uncontrolled chain reaction that charred the battery. The second malfunction occurred on an ANA Holdings plane that took off from Japan and was forced to make an emergency landing.