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Fire discovered on Boeing Dreamliner minutes after flight lands

The fire in the Japan Airlines jet is found after a cleaning crew at Boston's Logan airport reported smelling smoke. The cause is under investigation.

January 08, 2013|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
  • A Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet is surrounded by emergency vehicles while parked at a terminal at Logan International Airport in Boston. The Dreamliner has had numerous problems over the years.
A Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet is surrounded by emergency vehicles… (Stephan Savoia, Associated…)

A Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner passenger jet was found to be on fire 15 minutes after arriving at Boston's Logan International Airport from Tokyo, adding to the list of complications for the 17-month-old jet.

The fire found smoldering Monday in the plane's underbelly after passengers had deplaned prompted the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board to look into the incident.

The Dreamliner program has had numerous problems over the years.

The first large-passenger Dreamliner was delivered in September 2011, more than three years late because of design problems and supplier issues. Recently, the plane has run into turbulence over concerns about its safety.

In December, the FAA ordered inspections of fuel line connectors because of risks of leaks and possible fires.

On the same day, a United Airlines Dreamliner flight from Houston to Newark, N.J., was diverted to New Orleans after an electrical problem popped up mid-flight. After accepting delivery of the aircraft just a month earlier, Qatar Air later said it had grounded a Dreamliner for the same problem that United experienced.

Scott Hamilton, an aviation industry consultant and managing director of Leeham Co. in Issaquah, Wash., said there wasn't much known yet about Monday's incident to draw conclusions.

The NTSB "is investigating to see if there is a nexus between the problems," Hamilton said. "But it's way too soon to draw conclusions about what this means for the airplane."

Monday's fire was reported at 10:37 a.m. EST after cleaners boarded the plane belonging to Japan Airlines Co. and smelled smoke in the cabin. All 173 passengers and a crew of 11 had already exited the plane at the gate, said Matthew Brelis, spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which owns and operates the airport.

"The cause and source of the fire are under investigation," Brelis said. "There were no injuries and no damage to the airport."

Firefighters used infrared equipment to determine the source of the smoke and found a strong heat signature in the rear of the aircraft, he said.

The fire was fought for about 20 minutes by about 40 emergency responders belonging to the Massport Fire Rescue Department, Boston Emergency Medical Services and Boston Fire Department. The job involved about 15 vehicles, Brelis said.

Airport spokesman Richard Walsh said that a second fire erupted after a battery exploded, though that wasn't confirmed by the Massachusetts Port Authority.

A firefighter was treated for skin irritation likely caused by the battery explosion, Walsh said.

The extent of damage to the aircraft was unknown.

NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said an investigator had been sent to the scene.

"At this time, we're sending somebody to take a look at the airplane and gather information," Weiss said. "We should know more tomorrow."

Boeing spokeswoman Loretta Gunter said in a statement: "We are aware of the event and working with our customer. That's all we can offer at this time."

The Dreamliner, a twin-aisle aircraft that seats 210 to 290 passengers, is the first large passenger jet with more than half its structure made of composite materials (carbon fibers meshed together with epoxy) instead of aluminum sheets.

Major parts for the plane are assembled at various locations worldwide and then shipped to Boeing's facilities in Everett, Wash., where they are "snapped together" in three days once production hits full speed, compared with a month the conventional way.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

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