REFILE-UPDATE 2-Switch off Honeywell beacons on Boeing Dreamliners-fire investigators
LONDON, July 18 (Reuters) - The emergency locator beacons in Boeing Dreamliners should be switched off after being identified as the most likely origin of a recent fire on a parked jet, British investigators said on Thursday.
The beacons, made by U.S. conglomerate Honeywell, are positioned in the upper rear part of the new, advanced jets, and send a signal that leads rescuers to downed aircraft. They are powered by non-rechargeable lithium-manganese batteries.
Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is leading the investigation into a blaze that broke out on a parked Ethiopian Airlines jet at London's Heathrow airport last Friday. Its report, published on Thursday, also said aviation regulators should conduct a safety review of lithium-powered emergency locator beacons in all aircraft types.
Boeing said the beacons could simply be removed from Dreamliner jets, a job that could be done in an hour.
"The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) can be simply removed," said spokesman Marc Birtel. "It is not a U.S. Federal Aviation Regulation requirement, but it is required by some foreign regulators for their airlines or their airspace."
The AAIB report said the fire occurred in the upper portion of the Dreamliner's rear fuselage where the ELT devices are located. No other system in this part of the plane contained stored energy capable of causing such a fire while the plane was unpowered, it said.
Boeing said it supported the AAIB's two recommendations and reiterated its confidence in the Dreamliner's safety. It said it stood by the plane's "overall integrity".
Shares in Boeing rose 2.8 percent to $107.55 by 1615 GMT, close to their all time high, suggesting investors felt the latest cloud over its next-generation jet had cleared. The fire followed a four-month grounding linked to problems with much larger lithium-ion batteries on the plane.
The AAIB recommended that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ensure the power was turned off in all Honeywell-made ELT systems in the 60 plus Dreamliners currently in commercial service. A source close to the probe said this could mean removing the ELT's batteries.
In Washington, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had no immediate comment.
The battery linked to the London fire is made by New York-based Ultralife Corp, according to an industry source. Neither Honeywell nor Ultralife were immediately available for comment.
A European regulatory official said the jets could fly with the locator beacons temporarily de-activated, despite regulations mandating them in most commercial situations.
The AAIB said Honeywell had produced some 6000 ELTs of the same design, which are fitted to a wide range of aircraft.
"Detailed examination of the ELT has shown some indications of disruption to the battery cells. It is not clear however, whether the combustion in the area of the ELT was initiated by a release of energy within the batteries or by an external mechanism such as an electrical short," AAIB said in the report.
"In the case of an electrical short, the same batteries could provide the energy for an ignition and suffer damage in the subsequent fire."
Loren Thompson, a U.S.-based analyst and consultant with close ties to industry, said the UK recommendation did not call into question the airworthiness of the 787, which offered some good news for Boeing.
"The Honeywell device is simply a beacon for locating the aircraft in an accident, so it have no bearing on the flight worthiness of the plane," Thompson said.
Despite early concerns about the composite nature of the plane, high-tech electronics were turning out to be a bigger headache for the Dreamliner, Thompson said.
The AAIB said a detailed examination of the ELT and other possible causes of the fire would continue and that it would issue further updates when appropriate.
Honeywell shares were trading 72 cents higher at $83.17 around midday, near a year-high, while shares in Ultralife Corp were up 1 cent from Wednesday's close of $3.82.