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Boeing Takes Another Hit With Fire On Plagued 787 Dreamliner


An Ethiopian Airlines jet caught fire on the ground today at London's Heathrow Airport. It was a Boeing 787, also known as the Dreamliner, which has more than its share of troubles. The 787 has had serious problems with its lithium-ion batteries. In January, one overheated and another caught fire. The whole 787 fleet was grounded for more than three months after that.

Here's NPR's John Ydstie with more on what happened today.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: The Dreamliner was parked in a remote section of Heathrow Airport when it caught fire, and there were no passengers aboard. But because the aircraft was near two runways, Heathrow shut down operations for about an hour. Pictures show the Ethiopian Airlines jet with its skin burned away on the top rear of the fuselage immediately ahead of the tail.

Scott Hamilton, an airline consultant based in Seattle, who published the photos on his blog, says that location is important.

SCOTT HAMILTON: That certainly suggests to me that this is not a battery fire because, of course, the battery system is located in electronic space in the belly of the airplane, not on the top of the airplane.

YDSTIE: Guy Norris, an editor for Aviation Week and Space Technology who wrote a book on the Dreamliner, agrees.

GUY NORRIS: This is more likely to be something to do with, say, a fire from the galley or some system that's located around the two aft section doors there.

YDSTIE: Still, the incident presents Boeing with another public relations problem for its flagship aircraft. Ethiopian Airlines issued a statement saying the aircraft had been parked for eight hours when the fire was discovered. Boeing said it has personnel on the ground in London working to fully understand and address the problem. And both the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board said they were sending representatives to London to assist in the investigation of the incident.

While experts say it's doubtful today's fire was battery related, the root cause of the battery problems that grounded the plane were never identified. Boeing redesigned the system and the Dreamliner was cleared to resume flying again on April 19th. Around 50 of the high-profile planes have been delivered and Boeing has orders for around 1,000 more. Guy Norris says the Dreamliner is key to Boeing's future.

NORRIS: They've got a huge amount riding on it. So as a program, it's absolutely pivotal to the company that it succeeds.

YDSTIE: News of the fire caused Boeing shares to plummet 7 percent on the New York Stock Exchange. But after the likelihood of a battery fire diminished, the shares regained some ground. They ended the day down more than 4.5 percent. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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