Boeing: All Honeywell Locator Beacons Need a Check-Up

Boeing 787 Jet on Fire

In its investigation into the blaze that broke out aboard an empty Boeing (NYSE:BA) 787 Dreamliner parked at London’s Heathrow Airport earlier this month, the United Kingdom’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch determined that the source of the fire was the jet’s Honeywell-manufactured (NYSE:HON) emergency locator transmitter.

The investigators gave Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration two safety recommendations in a special bulletin released Thursday: that the FAA should “initiate action for making inert” the ELT system in all 787 planes until “appropriate airworthiness” can be determined, and that the FAA should also conduct a safety review of all lithium-powered ELT systems in other types of aircraft. While the FAA only required airlines to remove or inspect ELTs in the model that caught fire and has not widened the mandatory checks to other builds, Boeing asked airlines to examine the locator beacons on all plane models to gather further data.

Approximately 1,200 Boeing planes have been outfitted with the devices. Boeing is asking is that airlines check as many planes as possible within a 10-day period, reporting the data to help regulators determine what their next steps should be.

“Boeing is asking specific operators of 717, Next-Generation 737, 747-400, 767 and 777s to inspect aircraft with the Honeywell fixed ELT,” Boeing’s marketing vice president, Randy Tinseth, wrote in a blog post late on Sunday. “The purpose of these inspections is to gather data to support potential rule-making by regulators,” he added. The company noted that it was expanding its inspection request to meet the recommendation of the AAIB.

In the case of the Heathrow fire, the Ethiopian Airlines-operated Boeing 787 was parked on the runway for more than eight hours before the blaze began, which caused “extensive heat damage in the upper portion of the rear fuselage,” the AAIB noted in its report. This incident was the most serious setback for Boeing’s marquee jet since issues with the lithium-ion batteries in the 787’s power system forced a grounding in January.

The beacons in question are installed on planes so that rescuers can find the aircraft in the event of an accident. They are included in the design of about 20 different types of aircraft, including many Boeing and Airbus passenger jets and several business planes as well. All 68 Dreamliners delivered to airlines — including United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL) — have Honeywell-built ELTs.

Removing the beacon, or ELT, will be a “simple maintenance task,” requiring just an about an hour to complete, Honeywell spokesman Doug Alder told Bloomberg in a telephone interview on July 18. Japan’s ANA Holdings (ALNPY.PK) — the operator of the largest fleet of Dreamliners — has completed its inspection, which uncovered damage in the battery wiring on two 787 ELTs. The damage was slight, Reuters reported, but the beacons were sent to Honeywell for additional inspection and the airline has informed regulators, ANA told the publication. United, the only U.S. operator of the Dreamliner, also uncovered damage, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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