The Boeing 787 came under scrutiny again on Friday, when one of the Ethiopian Airlines’ Dreamliners caught fire at London Heathrow Airport.
The aircraft was sitting on the tarmac at Europe’s busiest airport when smoke was detected coming from the rear of the plane’s fuselage. While the exact cause of the fire has not been identified, it appears to be unconnected with the battery issues that led to the grounding of the Dreamliner earlier this year.
Overheating batteries were the cause of two major incidents involving the B787 in January – one of which involved a Japan Airlines (JAL) Dreamliner, which was sitting on the tarmac at Boston Logan Airport, shortly after a long-haul flight from Tokyo. While this would appear to have similarities to the Ethiopian Airlines incident, Ethiopian said its Dreamliner had been stationary for “more than eight hours” when the smoke was detected – far longer than the JAL aircraft. In addition, the position of the Dreamliner’s battery and auxiliary power unit does not correspond to that of the Heathrow fire.
Nevertheless, the latest incident will raise further concerns about the safety of the Dreamliner. Since it was cleared to return to the skies in late April, several carriers – including United Airlines, ANA, LOT Polish Airlines and Thomson Airways – have experienced problems with their B787s. In fact a recent report by Bloomberg revealed that the cancellation rate involving United’s Dreamliners is almost four times higher than the rest of the US airline’s fleet.
Despite this, airlines still appear to have confidence in the aircraft. After the Heathrow fire, Ethiopian issued a statement saying it would continue operating its four B787s, and no other airline has indicated plans to ground its Dreamliners.
Currently there are 68 B787 Dreamliners in service with 13 airlines around the world.