Beacon focus of Boeing fire probe, Boston plane upsets investors

Thu Jul 18, 2013 7:55pm EDT
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By Rhys Jones and Alwyn Scott and Andrea Shalal-Esa

LONDON/SEATTLE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - British aviation investigators identified an emergency beacon made by Honeywell International Inc (HON.N: Quote) as a likely source of last week's blaze on a Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) 787 Dreamliner and called for it to be turned off, spurring a rally in Boeing shares by relieved investors.

Later on Thursday a Japan Airlines (9201.T: Quote) 787 returned to Boston's Logan airport after receiving an in-flight maintenance alert about a fuel pump.

A spokesman for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said the incident was not an emergency but nervous investors marked Boeing shares down 1.5 percent in afterhours trade.

Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the locator beacon and its battery was the only system on a parked Ethiopian Airlines plane at Heathrow that was near the fire and had the power to start it.

Boeing said the beacon could be removed in about an hour from its newest model plane, which was grounded for more than three months earlier this year because of overheating of lithium-ion backup batteries in two January incidents.

Shares of Boeing closed 2.7 percent higher at $107.63, near the high of $108.15 reached a week ago before the fire. The Boston incident then saw the shares slip to $106.

The AAIB said it remained unclear whether the fire was triggered by a malfunction in the beacon's lithium-manganese battery or some external force - such as an electrical short circuit - and said the probe would continue.

In its report, the AAIB also called on the FAA and other regulators to review use of such emergency beacons that use lithium-based batteries on all other aircraft.   Continued...

Emergency services attend to a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, after it caught fire at Britain's Heathrow airport in west London July 12, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville