Experts said Dreamliner's one-piece carbon fuselage might be difficult to repair

Dreamliner blaze caused by emergency beacon

A device designed to transmit the aircraft’s whereabouts after a crash has been determined as a cause of the fire aboard Ethiopian Boeing 787 last week at London’s Heathrow airport.

Following earlier hints that batteries powering the Honeywell-manufactured device might have been responsible for the fire, UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the device – known as emergency locator transmitter (ELT) – had shown some indications of disruption to the battery cells.

AAIB has further urged the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to immobilise the ELTs on all 787 until further investigation is conducted.

Boeing said the recommendation is mostly a “precautionary measure” and confirmed the company will comply with the decision.

"The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority,” Boeing said in a statement.

"As a party to the investigation, Boeing supports the two recommendations from the UK AAIB, which we think are reasonable precautionary measures to take as the investigation proceeds.”

The company has confirmed the Dreamliner’s emergency beacons will be turned off until the full investigation results are available.

The incident that took place at London’s Heathrow airport caused major travel disruption at UK’s major aviation hub, however, no one was injured as the aircraft was empty, parked at a remote stand.

The most probable cause of the beacon’s ignition has been said to be the device’s lithium-ion batteries. Despite no similar case has been reported previously, the AAIB said that such had incident happened during a flight, it would have resulted in a serious situation.

"Large transport aircraft do not typically carry the means of fire detection or suppression in the space above the cabin ceilings and had this event occurred in-flight it could pose a significant safety concern and raise challenges for the cabin crew in tackling the resulting fire," AAIB said.

Further investigation will continue, with a help of Honeywell – the emergency beacon’s manufacturer.

A different battery problem earlier this year led to delivery delays which caused Thomson Airways to scrap plans to use the ultra-green aircraft in May and June. The carrier finally began Dreamliner services earlier this month.

Continuous production difficulties had already plagued the Dreamliner. It should have entered passenger service in 2008 but it was not until October 2011 that the first commercial flight was operated by Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways.

British Airways has taken delivery of the first of its 24 Dreamliners, while Virgin Atlantic is due to receive the first of its 16 Dreamliners in September next year.

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