Dreamliner Fire Spurs Orders to Check Jetliner BeaconsThomas Black and Jennifer Surane
Airlines are being told by regulators in the U.S., Canada, Japan and Europe to check most Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS jets for wiring faults in emergency beacons amid the probe into a July 12 fire on a 787 Dreamliner.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration joined the European Aviation Safety Agency and Japan’s transport ministry today in following Canadian regulators in mandating inspections on the Honeywell International Inc.-made emergency locator transmitters.
Boeing had requested last month that its customers look for a possible wiring fault on an emergency locator transmitter, which regulators signaled may have sparked the July fire on a parked 787 in London. The planemaker today also asked airlines to inspect wiring on a 787 engine fire-suppression system after a Japanese carrier discovered defects on three of the aircraft.
The Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer is “taking the active approach to solving the problem because they believe in the airplane, and the customers like the feedback they’re getting from their passengers” about the 787, said Howard Rubel, a Jefferies LLC analyst in New York.
The company is showing its commitment to the success of the 787, the first composite-plastic commercial jet, said Rubel, who rates Boeing shares buy. The Dreamliner has garnered 931 orders by offering lower fuel consumption and more passenger comfort.
U.K. officials linked the emergency transmitter to the July blaze, and investigators are trying to learn whether two smashed-together wires may have caused a short circuit, a person familiar with the probe said last month.
The Canadian directive covers more than 3,000 aircraft worldwide including 11 Boeing-made models and seven from Airbus. The checks also were mandated for Dassault Aviation SA’s Falcon 7X business jet and Lockheed Martin Corp.’s L-382, a civilian model of the Hercules transport.
The beacon-inspection order on a wide number of planes beyond the Dreamliner reduces the likelihood that the investigation will find that the fire stemmed from a Dreamliner-specific problem, Rubel said. After the FAA grounded the 787 for three months following the overheating of lithium-ion batteries on two jets in January, even small defects on the planes are reported widely, he said.
“This plane is such high profile that it gets more attention than maybe it should,” Rubel said. He called the wiring issue on the fire-suppression system “a little thing.”
Boeing asked airlines to inspect fire-extinguishing bottles on the 73 Dreamliners in service after Tokyo-based ANA Holdings Inc. discovered a defect that would trigger the wrong extinguisher if a fire were to occur in one of two engines.
The defect occurred at a facility operated by supplier Kidde, a United Technologies Corp. unit, and the inspection will take a few minutes, said Rob Henderson, a Boeing spokesman. It isn’t an immediate flight-safety issue, the planemaker said.
An assembly error at a United Technologies facility caused the fault in some refurbished fire extinguisher bottles, Dan Coulom, a spokesman, said today in an e-mail. The issue has been corrected and United Technologies is collaborating with Boeing and airlines to complete the inspections, he said.
After Boeing requested checks on the emergency beacons, ANA and United Airlines found damaged wires in the transmitters on some Dreamliners. Boeing supports regulators making the inspections mandatory, Doug Alder, a company spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
The Japanese directive to inspect Honeywell beacons covers 82 Boeing and Airbus planes, including 787s operated by Japan Airlines Co. and ANA, according to a statement on its transport ministry’s website. The European agency also adopted Transport Canada’s order, extending the inspection mandate to all that region’s carriers.
The FAA said in an e-mailed statement that it intends to issue a directive requiring the same actions as Canada’s order. Other nations typically follow mandates such as the directive issued yesterday by the Canadian regulator.
Canada’s order is a prudent step to ensure safety while the investigation continues into the cause of the July fire, said Thomas Anthony, director of the University of Southern California’s Aviation Safety and Security Program. “If there’s a question as to whether or not a hazard exists then they generally will act in favor of a greater degree of safety.”
Honeywell supports the Canadian order and continues to cooperate with the agencies investigating the July 12 fire on an Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise plane, said Steve Brecken, a spokesman for the Morris Township, New Jersey-based company.
The 787 fire linked to the emergency beacons, which are powered by lithium batteries, renewed safety concerns regarding the Dreamliner’s electrical system. The plane was grounded for three months after the two January incidents with lithium-ion batteries. Boeing devised a fix that included more insulation around power cells and a metal enclosure.
As part of the investigation of the emergency transmitter, Canadian regulators inspected a Honeywell facility at Mississauga, Ontario, and an Instrumar Ltd. plant in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Instrumar is a subcontractor that manufactures the emergency locator transmitter from Honeywell’s design.
After the 787 fire, Honeywell revised the maintenance instructions for the beacon to instruct crews to ensure the wires were tucked into the unit, Brecken said.