AAIB recommends review of all lithium-powered ELTs after 787 fire

LONDON, July 18 Thu Jul 18, 2013 11:02am EDT

LONDON, July 18 (Reuters) - Aviation regulators should conduct a safety review of lithium-powered emergency locator beacons in all aircraft types, said a British report into a fire on a Boeing Dreamliner jet in London.

Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is leading the investigation into a blaze that broke out on a parked Ethiopian Airlines jet at London's Heathrow airport last Friday.

The report, published on Thursday, said the fire occurred in the upper portion of the rear fuselage where the Dreamliner's emergency locator transmitter (ELT) device, made by U.S. firm Honeywell, is located.

There are no other aircraft system in this area of the plane which, with the aircraft unpowered, contained stored energy capable of causing such a fire, the British agency said.

The AAIB also recommended that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ensure the power is turned off in all Honeywell-made ELT systems in Boeing Dreamliners. A source close to the probe said this could mean removing the ELT's batteries.

"Detailed examination of the ELT has shown some indications of disruption to the battery cells. It is not clear however, whether the combustion in the area of the ELT was initiated by a release of energy within the batteries or by an external mechanism such as an electrical short," AAIB said in the report, known as a special bulletin said.

"In the case of an electrical short, the same batteries could provide the energy for an ignition and suffer damage in the subsequent fire."

The latest fire on board Boeing's new composite airliner comes hot on the heels of a four-month grounding linked to problems with much larger lithium-ion batteries on the plane. The battery linked to the London fire is made by New York-based Ultralife Corp, according to an industry source.

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