London’s Heathrow airport closed to flights following a fire involving a Boeing Co. (BA:US) 787 jet operated by Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise, while a second Dreamliner was forced to abandon a trip with technical issues. Shares of the U.S. planemaker had their biggest drop in almost two years.
The aircraft, Boeing’s newest model and beset by battery-related fire incidents that grounded the global fleet earlier this year, was sprayed with fire-retardant foam after the Heathrow event. No one was on board and there were no injuries.
Takeoffs and landings were suspended at Europe’s busiest hub for more than an hour while emergency services attended the jet, before flights resumed later with significant delays. The cause of the fire is unknown, Heathrow Ltd. (FER) said on its Twitter feed, with television pictures appearing to show damage on the rear upper fuselage close to the aircraft’s tail.
“We’re aware of the 787 event at Heathrow airport and have Boeing personnel there,” the Chicago-based company said via Twitter, adding that it had sent people to the scene. “We’re working to fully understand and address this.”
Shares of Boeing (BA:US) fell as much as 7.4 percent, the most since Aug. 10, 2011, and were trading 4.9 percent lower as of 2:36 p.m. eastern time, paring gains this year to 35 percent and valuing the company at $77.2 billion.
London Fire Brigade said it was alerted to an incident concerning an aircraft at Heathrow at 4:36 p.m. and sent local crews to the scene, with the fire brought under control by 6:04 p.m. It said it couldn’t speculate on what caused the emergency.
Ethiopian Air said the aircraft had been parked at Heathrow for more than eight hours before smoke was detected. “The cause of the incident is under investigation by all concerned,” Henok Teferra, a spokesman for the carrier, said in a text message.
TV images appear to show that the fire damage is close to the crew-rest area and well away from the location of lithium-ion batteries mounted in the middle and front of the plane, analysts at Bernstein Research including Douglas Harned said in a note. Flaws with those cells grounded the model on Jan. 16.
“Our assumption at this time is that there is no connection between the fire and the battery issues of the past,” they said.
TUI Travel Plc (TT/)’s U.K. charter arm Thomson Airways Ltd. said that one of its two 787s turned back to Manchester in northern England today following the detection of an unspecified fault after it had departed for Orlando Sanford airport in Florida.
Passengers disembarked without further incident and engineering teams are probing the issue, spokesman Andy Cockburn said by telephone.
Heathrow said the Ethiopian Air fire was detected while the aircraft was stationary and that it wasn’t subsequently moved. The carrier’s website showed a service was due to depart London at 9 p.m. for an eight-hour trip to Addis Ababa, though the Flighstats.com website showed the flight as canceled.
Boeing’s all-composite Dreamliner returned to service in May, permitted to resume flying after a redesign that added more protection around individual cells to contain any overheating, a steel case to prevent fire and a tube that would vent any fumes outside the fuselage.
The twin-engine 787 model has won almost 1,000 orders from airlines keen to cut their fuel bills, with Ethiopian one of its earliest buyers. Sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest carrier currently has four of 10 Dreamliners on order in service.
The U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch said it’s making enquiries regarding the Heathrow incident and hasn’t yet decided whether to send a team to the scene, a spokeswoman said.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating a Jan. 7 battery fire aboard a Japan Airlines Co. 787, plans to send a representative to work with British authorities, spokesman Terry Williams said.
The body can participate in probes in other jurisdictions if the aircraft or its systems were manufactured in the U.S. The Federal Aviation Administration is also aware of the fire and is in contact with Boeing, it said in an e-mail.
United Airlines, the only U.S. operator of the Dreamliner, said it’s operating its six planes as scheduled.
“We will not speculate on the cause of this issue, but will closely monitor the findings,” said Mary Ryan, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL:US) The carrier has two more 787s due for delivery this year.
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