Recent fire aboard a Boeing 787 Dreamliner at London’s Heathrow airport might have been caused by an emergency beacon battery.
Honeywell International, the manufacturer of the emergency locator transmitter batteries, says no similar problem has ever been reported before. However, it was reported the company had joined the investigation team looking into the Ethiopian Airline mishap. "It's far too premature to speculate on the cause, or draw conclusions," said Honeywell spokesman Nathan Drevna.
In 2009, Honeywell’s emergency transmitters had been scrutinized by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who recommended them being replaced, as the device had failed in tests. Despite ignition risk was not said to be the cause of the problem, Honeywell is now checking whether the transmitter used aboard Ethiopian Dreamliner was the same model.
US aviation and safety officials said it was the first time they could recall such a transmitter being investigated as the possible cause of an airplane fire.
According to aeronautics professor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology John Hausman, the transmitter batteries might have theoretically been the cause of the fire, as they are located in the aft of the fuselage. Nevertheless, he said, a passenger smoking a cigarette in the lavatory was a much more likely cause.
Aviation experts have said that, despite Boeing believing the amount of cutting-edge technologies employed in Dreamliner was the company’s greatest strength, it could actually turn into a weakness.
"Unless the company can say for sure that the incident is isolated to this particular aircraft, it's not welcome news," said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation consultant with the Virginia-based Teal Group.
"The one systematic problem to plague the Dreamliner is that so many of its technologies are new that it is very difficult for the regulators to fully grasp all the changes," he said.
Boeing refused to comment on the on-going investigation.