UPDATE 1-U.S. FAA seeks inspections of Boeing 787 rescue beacons

Fri Jul 19, 2013 7:58pm EDT

By Andrea Shalal-Esa and Alwyn Scott

July 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday it will require inspections of emergency locator beacons on U.S.-registered Boeing Co 787 Dreamliners, but stopped short of making airlines disable or remove the devices blamed for a fire aboard a parked 787 in London last week.

UK investigating authorities on Thursday pinpointed the battery-powered beacons as the likely cause of the fire and recommended disabling the units.

The UK probe is now focused on the possible role played by moisture and condensation in the 787 cabin.

The FAA said it is working with Boeing on instructions for the inspections that are meant to ensure that wires are routed properly and look for pinched wires, unusual moisture or heating.

United Airlines is the only U.S. carrier currently flying the 787, so is the only one formally governed by the FAA action. Twelve other airlines also fly the plane and the FAA said it will inform other aviation regulators about its call for mandatory inspections.

The beacons, made by Honeywell International Inc, are designed to send out a signal so rescuers can locate the wreckage after a crash. U.S. regulations do not require commercial aircraft in scheduled service to carry the devices, but most jetliners have them as standard safety equipment.

The FAA said it is continuing to work closely with the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and with Honeywell in the probe into the July 12 fire aboard an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft.

The FAA did not indicate it would expand the inspections to other types of aircraft. The AAIB also recommended in its announcement on Thursday that the FAA and other regulators perform a safety review of the devices on other aircraft besides the 787 and take action where appropriate.

Honeywell repeated its support for "temporarily addressing" questions about the beacons on the 787. It noted that the investigation is continuing.

Boeing said in a statement that it supported the action by regulators in response to the AAIB's action.

"We have provided instructions to customers giving them the required information to meet their regulatory guidelines," the statement said. "We are working very closely with the regulatory agencies, customers and suppliers to coordinate all required actions.

"The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority. We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity."

The fire has revived questions about the high-tech Dreamliner, which has once again been thrust into the spotlight with a fire problem.

The aircraft was grounded for 3-1/2 months earlier this year after lithium-ion batteries in a different area of the plane overheated, emitted smoke and in one case caught fire.

The AAIB said the lithium-manganese batteries in the Honeywell beacons were likely the cause because they were the only equipment located where the fire burned and they had a power source. But it has not completely ruled out other potential causes such as moisture, and the investigation is continuing.

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