Beacon focus of Boeing fire probe; investors remain on edge

Fri Jul 19, 2013 2:58am EDT
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By Rhys Jones and Alwyn Scott

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

Concerns about the carbon composite jet soon resurfaced, however, after a Japan Airlines 787 returned to Boston's Logan airport a with a possible faulty fuel pump.

A spokesman for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said that incident was not an emergency, but nervous investors sent Boeing shares down 1.5 percent in afterhours trade. Japan Airlines spokesman Hisanori Iizuka said the pilot decided to turn back "as a precaution."

The 787 program has been plagued by problems since January, with aircraft grounded after the overheating of lithium-ion back-up batteries.

UK officials said the fire at the parked Ethiopian Airlines at Heathrow was not related to the January incidents. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said a locator beacon and its lithium-based battery was the only equipment on the plane that was near the fire and had the power to start it, and called regulators to review the use of these beacons.

Boeing said the locator beacon is not required by U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulations, although some other nations do mandate their use. The plane maker said it would be removed from its newest model plane.

"ELTs are not required as part of the airplane design. There was no requirement to operate the ELTs during 787 flight test," said Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel.

The beacons, also called emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) are powered by non-rechargeable, lithium-manganese batteries used for decades in products like digital cameras, walkie-talkies and pacemakers.   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