Boeing, We Have a Problem

Want to see what happens to an airplane manufacturing company after yet another one of its aircraft bursts into flames on the tarmac?

That's an intraday chart of Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) . The cliff you see around noon corresponds to news that yet another of its flagship 787 Dreamliners caught fire on an airport tarmac -- to be clear, the plane was empty at the time of the fire. For those of you that are counting, this is now the third such incident since the 787 began its commercial life.

According to The New York Times, "An internal fire broke out on Friday on a Boeing 787 that Ethiopian Airlines had parked between flights at London's Heathrow Airport." While it remains to be seen what caused the fire, this isn't good.

It was only seven weeks ago that the innovative aircraft was allowed back in the skies by global regulators following two similar occurrences earlier this year. In the first, a lithium-ion battery caught fire on a 787 parked at the Boston airport in the beginning of January. One week later, the same thing happened mid-flight, causing a 787 to make an emergency landing in Japan.

Aviation authorities subsequently grounded the plane until the problem could be identified and addressed, ultimately leaving the aircraft out of service for three and a half months. "During the grounding, Boeing developed a system to contain any potential fire risk of the jet's lithium-ion batteries," The Wall Street Journal reported.

Suffice it to say, today's news potentially calls that into question. In a statement on Twitter, the company said, "We're aware of the 787 event @HeathrowAirport and have Boeing personnel there. We're working to fully understand and address this."

In the short term, this isn't going to help Boeing's stock. Over the longer term, however, it's hard to assume that this is anything but a temporary blip.

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  • Report this Comment On July 12, 2013, at 3:16 PM, plange01 wrote:

    the NIGHTMARE LINER!

  • Report this Comment On July 12, 2013, at 3:26 PM, zlinker1 wrote:

    Quoting iamlucky_13 from another thread:

    "It wasn't the battery. The photos show discoloration on the top of the fuselage just forward of the tail, due to charring of the paint from internal heat.

    This tells us several things:

    1.) (most important) It's not merely smoke venting from the battery box, and it caused damage to a structure. This was more severe than either of the battery fires, which caused no damage outside the battery rack.

    2.) Skeptics will probably dislike my reasoning, but physics wins, and the fact that there is apparent damage to the fuselage is what convinced me it wasn't the battery. While the original battery box is a different case, the batteries simply don't have enough total energy, even if they burned completely up, to burn through the titanium box.

    3.) The battery is on the bottom of the fuselage, just behind the wing. The damage is on top of the fuselage, I'd say a good 30-40 feet behind where the battery is located. For the battery to have caused a fire that burned up through the cabin to damage the crown would have involved a lot of burning in the cabin, which would have produced huge amounts of smoke and charring of the crown at least up to the wing.

    I see two main candidates offhand:

    (a) Electrical fire. This could be bad, especially if it was found to be a wire chafing issue. Wire chafing has been an issue in aircraft since before WWII, and the more complex the plane, the more difficult it is to find and fix. A less serious cause of electrical fire would be a problem with a relay or electrical panel. A defective version of one of those is much easier to replace with a re-designed version.

    This is, I believe, the main cause of aircraft fires. An Airbus A330 actually had an onboard fire this past May that was traced to the wiring for the in-flight entertainment system.

    (b) Human-caused fire - it is also possible the ground crew was smoking on board. And believe it or not, there have been occasional incidents on some African airlines of passengers doing what they normally do on long trips - bring along a kerosene stove and cook their food on the go.

    Looking past the cause, I'm curious what will happen to the damaged plane. One of the known downsides of large composite barrel construction is that you can't simply replace a damaged fuselage panel. It might be possible to apply a reinforcing patch to the heat-damaged area to restore it to its original strength. If the value of keeping the plane in service is high enough, they could potential replace the entire damaged barrel section. Or the plane could actually end up scrapped."

    Or,it could be a BA short-seller in the ground crew / baggage handling.

  • Report this Comment On July 12, 2013, at 10:48 PM, Clint35 wrote:

    I guess they don't make 'em like they used to.

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