* Plane caught fire while parked at Heathrow on Friday
* Investigators say no evidence of link to batteries
* In separate incident, another Dreamliner turned back
* Airline says it has replaced components, plane OK to fly
By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON, July 13 Investigators have found no
evidence of a link between a fire that broke out on a Boeing
787 Dreamliner parked at London's Heathrow airport and
the plane's batteries, Britain's Air Accidents Investigation
Branch (AAIB) said on Saturday.
The question of whether the fire was connected to the
batteries is crucial because the entire global fleet of
Dreamliners, Boeing's groundbreaking new flagship jet, was
grounded for three months this year due to battery-related
The fire broke out on the Ethiopian Airlines plane 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.
"There has been extensive heat damage in the upper portion
of the rear fuselage, a complex part of the aircraft, and the
initial investigation is likely to take several days," the AAIB
said in a statement.
"However, it is clear that this heat damage is remote from
the area in which the aircraft main and APU (Auxiliary Power
Unit) batteries are located, and, at this stage, there is no
evidence of a direct causal relationship."
Separately, Britain's Thomson Airways said one of its
Dreamliners that turned back during a flight from Manchester to
Sanford in Florida on Friday had suffered a "minor technical
issue" and had now had a small number of components replaced.
Thomson said the aircraft had been fully tested and was
being taken back into service at once. The airline declined to
specify which components had been replaced.
Thomson Airways, owned by the world's largest tour operator
TUI Travel, has a total of three Dreamliners and all are
now operating normally, the airline said.
Britain's Sky News television channel said it had learnt
that some 100 Thomson passengers had called the airline's
cancellation line asking to know if they were booked to fly on a
Dreamliner. Sky News did not give a source for the information
and Thomson declined to comment.
The Heathrow and Manchester incidents were a new blow for
Boeing after 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.
"SMOKE THROUGHOUT FUSELAGE"
Several airlines said they were continuing to operate their
Dreamliners, including United Continental, the Polish
airline LOT, Japan Airlines and ANA, the world's
biggest operator of the 787.
Heathrow briefly closed both its runways to deal with
Friday's fire, causing delays and cancellations, but was back to
normal operations on Saturday.
Footage from the scene of the fire showed apparent scorching
on the fuselage near the tail. The Dreamliner's two batteries
are in compartments located low down near the front and middle
of the plane.
The Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner has been moved to a hangar
at Heathrow where it is under technical investigation, the AAIB
said, adding that the initial witness and physical evidence
showed there had been smoke throughout the fuselage.
The AAIB said the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board
(NTSB), representing the state of design and manufacture, and
the Civil Aviation Authority of Ethiopia, representing the state
of registry and operator, had been invited to appoint accredited
representatives to participate in the investigation.
The AAIB also said it had also invited the U.S. Federal
Aviation Administration, Boeing, Ethiopian Airlines, the
European Aviation Safety Agency and Britain's Civil Aviation
Authority to participate as advisers to the investigation.
Boeing will be keen to reassure airlines, travellers and
investors over the cause of the fire as quickly as possible but
under aviation rules it will be up to investigators to decide
how much information to release and when.
Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa's top five carriers, said
it would continue to fly its Dreamliner fleet. It has ordered a
total of 10 Dreamliners, of which four have been delivered.
"After a normal flight from Addis to London, passengers
disembarked in the morning and the aircraft was cleaned. It was
towed to a remote parking area as usual and parked properly with
all internal and external powers switched off," said an official
from the airline's public relations department.
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.