* Fire broke out on parked plane at Heathrow on Friday
* Another Dreamliner turned back during flight
* Incidents a blow to Boeing after earlier grounding
* Share price closed down 4.7 percent after news
By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON, July 13 Investigators started work on
Saturday to establish the cause of a fire on a Boeing
Dreamliner at London's Heathrow airport, a new setback for the
high-tech model after it was grounded at the start of the year
over battery problems.
The fire broke out on the plane, operated by Ethiopian
Airlines, on Friday afternoon, when it was parked at a remote
stand with no passengers on board, eight hours after arriving
from Addis Ababa. No one was injured.
External scorching could be seen close to the plane's tail,
in a different area from the bays containing batteries. There
was no official indication of what could have caused the fire.
"The aircraft has been moved to a secure hangar at Heathrow
and the investigation has begun," said a spokesman for Britain's
Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
The AAIB will lead the investigation, he said, working
alongside the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and National
Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Ethiopian Airlines and
Analysts say Boeing will be keen to reassure airlines,
travelers and investors over the cause of the fire as quickly as
possible but it will be up to investigators to decide how much
information to release and when. Under aviation rules there are
restrictions on how much companies can say about the details of
an ongoing accident investigation.
Meanwhile Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa's top five
carriers, said it would continue to fly its Dreamliner fleet.
"We have not grounded any of our aircraft," the carrier said
in an emailed statement on Saturday. "The incident at Heathrow
happened while the plane was on the ground and had been for more
than eight hours and was not related to flight safety."
Separately, engineers from Britain's Thomson Airways were
inspecting their own Boeing Dreamliner after it had to turn back
during a flight on Friday from Manchester in England to Sanford
in Florida because of an unspecified technical issue. Thomson
Airways is one of six European airlines owned by TUI Travel
, the world's largest tour operator.
The two incidents are a blow for Boeing particularly as the
entire global fleet of Dreamliners had to be grounded for three
months, ending in April, after one high-tech battery caught fire
and another overheated.
Boeing shares closed down 4.7 percent at $101.87 on Friday,
knocking $3.8 billion off the company's market capitalisation.
Quoting Mark Mangooni, Ethiopian Airlines' senior manager in
Britain, the Financial Times reported that airline staff had
discovered a problem with the aircraft's air conditioning system
during a routine inspection and had seen sparks but no flames.
The report did not make clear when this had happened.
Reuters could not reach Mangooni for comment.
Heathrow briefly closed both its runways to deal with the
fire, and a spokeswoman said on Saturday that the airport was
back to normal operations, although it was still dealing with a
backlog of delays and cancellations due to Friday's incident.
The Dreamliner's two batteries are in electrical
compartments located low down and near the front and middle of
the plane. Damage to the Ethiopian plane appears to be on top of
the fuselage, close to the tail, according to video from the
scene on Friday.
Former NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said the Heathrow
incident was extraordinary, coming so soon after the fleet had
returned to service, but warned against jumping to conclusions.
"It's very early. No one knows where the fire started at
this point," Rosenker told Reuters, adding it could be something
as simple as a coffee pot left on in a galley.
A spokesman for GS Yuasa, which makes the Dreamliner
batteries, said he had not received any information on the
The 787 is Boeing's biggest bet on new technology in nearly
20 years. It cost an estimated $32 billion to develop and Boeing
plans to use hundreds of innovations such as its carbon-fibre
composite skin and electrical system to enhance other jets.
The 787 Dreamliner fleet was grounded by regulators at the
start of the year after batteries overheated on two of the jets
within two weeks, including a fire in a parked Japan Airlines
plane in Boston.
Boeing was forced to halt deliveries of the jet while it was
grounded and airlines stopped ordering the plane at that time.
Orders have since resumed and Boeing has logged 83 Dreamliner
orders this year, bringing its current order book to 930 planes.
Boeing never disclosed the cost of the three-month grounding
but said it absorbed most of the expense in the first quarter
while still posting a 20 percent rise in profit. Its shares are
up 35 percent this year, even after Friday's loss.
The plane which caught fire in London was the first of the
787 fleet to resume flight after the battery-related grounding.
A person familiar with the aircraft's configuration said the
damaged area appears close to galleys and environmental control
systems, but added that it was too early to link the fire to any
Several airlines said they were continuing to operate their
787s, including United Continental, Polish airline LOT,
Japan Airlines and ANA, the world's biggest operator of
Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliners are powered by General
Electric GEnx engines.