18 July 2013 08:29

Report on Boeing Dreamliner Fire Due Soon

BoeingL

Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch is planning to issue within days an interim report on the facts of Friday's fire inside a Boeing Co. (BA) 787 Dreamliner operated by Ethiopian Airlines, according to two people familiar with AAIB planning.

The report would state the known series of events occurring inside the top of the unoccupied jetliner when it was parked at London's Heathrow Airport. The report is unlikely to draw any conclusions about what caused the fire, these people said.

AAIB investigators have said they are focusing on several systems in the area of the burn, including a beacon used to locate a plane in the event of a crash, known as an emergency locator transmitter (ELT). The small, battery-powered device is attached near the location of the fire but it remains unclear if it was the combustion source, the person said.

The Dreamliner's ELT is produced by Honeywell International Inc. (HON), which was invited Monday to participate in the investigation. Thousands of similar devices have operated on planes around the world for several years without incident, Honeywell and industry officials said. The model is used on planes from Boeing, Bombardier Inc. (BBD.A.T, BBD.B.T, BDRBF) of Canada and the Airbus unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. (EAD.FR, EADSY), according to industry officials.

Amid uncertainty about the cause of the fire, the AAIB is preparing to ask the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency to assess the necessity of the devices on 787s, according to one person familiar with the situation. The AAIB may suggest temporarily removing ELTs from Dreamliners as a precautionary measure while the investigation continues, this person said.

ELTs are required for passenger flights in the U.S., and they are widely used by airlines around the globe. But under U.S. rules, operators can fly with ELTs inoperative for up to 90 days before replacement or repair is required.

Read more news about Boeing here.

Spokesmen for the AAIB in London and Boeing declined to comment.

A Honeywell official said the company hasn't been contacted by investigators or regulators to remove any beacons but left open the possibility of doing so.

"While we do not have any orders to temporarily remove our ELTs from 787s at this time, as a safety-first company, we would support an action like this as a precautionary measure if our team, or the AAIB and NTSB, determine it's necessary to do so," the Honeywell official said.

Industry officials expect that over coming weeks the FAA, EASA and airlines operating Dreamliners will pore over ELT maintenance records and databases for any incidents related to the beacons.

But so far, these officials said no particular maintenance issues have cropped up with ELTs. The devices haven't helped locate any big U.S. or European jetliner after a crash in the past two decades.

Industry and government officials familiar with the investigation say they still don't know how a device as small as an ELT could have sparked the intense fire inside the plane.

The AAIB is leading the investigation with input from the FAA and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, EASA, Boeing, Honeywell and Ethiopian Airlines. Investigators plan to end their on-site analysis this weekend, and FAA representatives would then return to the U.S. and analysis will continue on both sides of the Atlantic, according to industry and government officials.

In an unusual move, some FAA officials are quietly arguing inside the agency that the AAIB lacks jurisdiction to conduct the investigation under rules of the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization. Air accident investigations are usually led by the country where they occur. But according to people familiar with the FAA officials' reading of ICAO rules, this only holds for aircraft in flight or that have "intention of flight."

According to these people, FAA officials believe that a parked plane that was certified by the FAA should be investigated by the FAA.

--Jon Ostrower contributed to this article.

Write to Daniel Michaels at dan.michaels@wsj.com and Andy Pasztor at andy.pasztor@wsj.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 18, 2013 01:35 ET (05:35 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

 

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