Boeing 787

Boeing hit by return of Dreamliner safety worries

Dreamliner jets under scrutiny again after two incidents involving the aircraft reawaken concerns over its safety and reliability

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 6:41am

Two incidents involving Boeing's 787 Dreamliners have renewed safety concerns about the airplane following battery malfunctions that grounded the fleet earlier this year.

Boeing's shares had their biggest drop in two years - at one point, knocking US$6 billion off its market value - after a fire on a parked 787 operated by Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise was put out by crews at London's Heathrow airport. No one was on board and there were no injuries.

TUI Travel's charter arm Thomson Airways said one of its 787s turned back to Manchester in northern England because of an unspecified fault after it left for Orlando Sanford International Airport in Florida, in the United States. Boeing personnel and investigators from Britain and the US are set to investigate the cause of the blaze on the Ethiopian Airlines jet, which had been parked for eight hours.

A Heathrow spokeswoman said the plane, named Queen of Sheba, was empty when the blaze was reported. Television images showed the Dreamliner surrounded by pools of foam with three fire engines on the scene. External scorching from the fire was located in a different part of the aircraft from the bays containing batteries.

While the causes are not yet known, the events are a blow to Chicago-based Boeing as it tries to restore confidence in the 787, which was grounded worldwide in January after the melting of lithium-ion batteries on two of the planes.

Boeing shares slid 4.7 per cent to US$101.87 at Friday's close in New York, the biggest daily decline since August 18, 2011. The stock pared some of its losses after analysts said scorch marks indicated the fire probably was not related to the lithium-ion batteries.

The damage appears to be above the crew rest area and "should have very little connection to electrical systems", said Douglas Harned, a New York-based aerospace analyst.

The US Federal Aviation Administration grounded the Dreamliner on January 16 after the lithium-ion batteries overheated on two aircraft, with one catching fire in Boston.

The FAA cleared the plastic-composite 787 to fly again in April after Boeing redesigned the battery to include more protection around individual cells.

Additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse


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