* Fire started in auxiliary power system
* No passengers on board at time, no injuries reported
* Boeing shares close down 2 percent
By Scott Malone and Alwyn Scott
BOSTON/NEW YORK, Jan 7 Fire broke out on an
empty Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner jet parked at a gate in
Boston on Monday, putting safety concerns about the new,
carbon-composite jet back in the spotlight and drawing attention
from federal investigators.
Officials said the fire started when a battery in the Japan
Airlines Co Ltd jet's auxiliary power system exploded
around 10:30 a.m. ET, shortly after passengers deplaned.
A mechanic inspecting the jet discovered smoke in the
cockpit while performing a routine post-flight inspection and
reported it to authorities at Boston's Logan International
Airport, officials said.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National
Transportation Safety Board are looking into what caused the
problem, which came just weeks after Boeing endured a string of
other electrical problems that briefly grounded three of the
planes. The new jet also has suffered an engine failure and fuel
leaks in the 14 months it has been in service.
"I don't want to be an alarmist," said Carter Leake, an
analyst at BB&T Capital Markets in Virginia. "But onboard fires
on airplanes are as bad as it gets. Even though it happened on
the ground, rest assured the FAA is asking 'What if it happened
in the air?'"
The Chicago-based jet maker's shares closed down 2 percent
at $76.13 after the news.
The electrical fire is troubling in part because the 787
relies heavily on electrical power to drive onboard systems that
in other jet models are run by air pressure generated by the
engines. The new jet also suffered an electrical fire during a
test flight, prompting a redesign of electrical systems.
Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said Monday, "We are aware of
the event and are working with our customer." Other Boeing
officials declined to comment.
Japan Airlines did not respond to several requests for
The Dreamliner is Boeing's first jet to be made of carbon
composites rather than aluminum, a change that lowers the
plane's weight and allows it to burn less fuel.
The jet was plagued by production problems that delayed
initial delivery by 3-1/2 years. Boeing currently has nearly 800
unfilled orders for the plane and is ramping up production from
five per month to 10 a month this year.
Yet since entering service in October 2011, the plane has
repeatedly made headlines for mechanical problems.
Last July, the FAA investigated an incident in which a 787
engine made by General Electric Co blew apart on the
ground in South Carolina, prompting changes in how the engines
are made, maintained and inspected. A similar engine failed on a
Boeing 747 in Shanghai in September.
The Dreamliner's run of electrical mishaps began Dec. 4,
when a United Airlines flight from Houston to Newark,
New Jersey, made an emergency landing after it appeared that one
of its power generators failed. United later said an electrical
panel was at fault. On Dec. 13, Qatar Airways said it had
grounded one of its three 787 jets because of the same problem
United had experienced. On Dec. 17, United said that a second
787 in its fleet had developed electrical issues.
Also in December, the FAA ordered inspections of 787s after
fuel leaks were found on two aircraft operated by foreign
airlines. The leaks stemmed from incorrectly assembled fuel line
couplings, which could result in loss of power or engine fire,
the FAA said.
In the latest incident, a fire crew determined that a
battery used to power the plane's electric systems when the
engines are not running had exploded. The mechanic was the only
person on board the plane when the smoke was discovered and no
one was hurt by the blaze.
"Passengers were in no danger as this event had happened at
least 15 minutes after they deplaned," said Massport Fire Chief
In late December, Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney said
the 787 has not experienced an unusual number of problems for a
new aircraft, calling the problems "normal squawks."
But Monday's electrical fire raised questions about that
view and is likely to make Boeing highly susceptible to any
other issues that could arise on the aircraft.
Wing de-icing and cabin air conditioning systems on the 787
are electrical. If ventilation failed on a flight or the cockpit
filled with smoke, the pilots would decompress the cabin to get
air and would quickly dive to 10,000 feet, where oxygen levels
and temperatures are survivable, said Leake, the analyst at BB&T
Capital Markets, who is also a former commercial and military
He said normal teething issues for a new plane might include
an engine shutting down at a gate, stuck landing gear or a
malfunctioning lavatory. In contrast, an engine breaking up and
a fire that fills the cockpit with smoke are "all squawks that,
unfortunately for Boeing, could have severe consequences.
"Any electrical problem in the next 30 days, for whatever
reason, which would be a normal teething problem, is going to be
a big deal," he added. "It creates a perception issue."