Investigators Home In on Source of 787 Fire

 - January 8, 2013, 4:32 PM

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board confirmed today that the fire that broke out Monday in a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 at Boston Logan Airport emanated from the airplane’s aft electrical equipment bay, near the APU battery box. According to the NTSB, an investigator on scene found that the auxiliary power unit battery showed severe fire damage. Thermal damage to the surrounding structure and components didn’t spread beyond the area immediately near the APU battery rack (within about 20 inches), it added.

Following the NTSB’s update, Boeing almost immediately issued its own statement. “JAL has reported that smoke detected while a 787 was on the ground after passengers disembarked and during cleaning was traced to the battery used to start the auxiliary power unit (APU),” it said.  “As is standard practice within the industry, it would be premature to discuss additional details at this stage as the investigation is ongoing. However, nothing that we’ve seen in this case indicates a relationship to any previous 787 power system events, which involved power panel faults elsewhere in the aft electrical equipment bay. Information about the prior events has been shared with the NTSB and it is aware of the details.

“Boeing is cooperating with the NTSB in the investigation of this incident. Before providing more detail, we will give our technical teams the time they need to do a thorough job and ensure we are dealing with facts, not speculation.”

The airplane in question arrived at Logan at 10 a.m. following a revenue flight from Tokyo and taxied to gate E8A in Terminal E as scheduled by 10:05, according to an airport spokesman. All 173 passengers and 11 crewmembers had departed by the time airplane cleaners reported smoke in the cabin at 10:37 a.m. Firefighters arrived at 10:39 and extinguished the fire within 40 minutes.

The fire marks the fourth in a string of incidents involving Boeing 787s in a little more than a month. Electrical failures led to the grounding of a pair of United Airlines 787s and a Qatar Airways Dreamliner in December. The first incident involved a United airplane en route from Newark International Airport to Houston on December 4, when what the airline later described as a nuisance warning forced the crew to divert to New Orleans. Qatar grounded one of its 787s on December 9, after that airplane exhibited electrical problems during its delivery flight to Doha. Finally, United grounded a second 787 due to yet another electrical fault only 10 days after the incident during the flight to Houston.