Ethiopian Airlines B787 ‘Queen of Sheba’ suffers fire damage while parked at Heathrow


(Posted 13th July 2013)

The fire on a parked B787 of Ethiopian Airlines at London’s Heathrow Airport has not just caused the temporary closure of the UK’s primary aviation hub, but rocked both Boeing and the airlines flying the world’s most advanced passenger jet once again. Ethiopian is Africa’s first B787 operator with presently 4 aircraft in service, the affected plane included, and was expecting delivery of a fifth aircraft later in July and a further 4 or 5 before the end of the year to complete their initial order of 10.

The aircraft, named ‘Queen of Sheba’ is reportedly the very same which kicked off commercial flights again with a service from Addis Ababa to Nairobi at the time, after the long grounding of the aircraft by the FAA and other aviation regulators was lifted a few weeks ago. ET – AOP was parked for the day after arriving from Addis Ababa earlier in the morning before the planned return in the evening to Ethiopia. Images now circulating on the web show the rear of the aircraft damaged by fire, which was put out by the airports fire fighting engines while all landings and take offs were suspended until clarity over the incident had been obtained by airport security. The pictures show clearly that the fire burned through the top of the aircraft, casting doubts on any early return to service until major structural repairs have been carried out, if that is within the abilities of Heathrow based MRO’s considering the composite structure of this type of aircraft.

Teams from Boeing, the US’ National Transportation and Safety Board, the FAA and of course the UK’s air accident investigations branch are either on site already or enroute, to establish this latest mishap hitting the B787 Dreamliner. Long delayed before going into service due to assembly issues, the three months grounding from January this year onwards had stirred sentiments aplenty among airlines and passengers, and this latest incident involving this aircraft type, albeit on the ground, will raise a whole spectrum of questions once more, even if current indications are pointing to a cause other than the battery installation which is located in a different part of the plane. Current focus is on the rear galley and its electrical installations as a possible cause of the fire but no conclusions can be drawn at this time until the investigators have concluded their forensic examination of the plane. Passengers booked for their flight from London to Addis Ababa and beyond have been informed and the airline, according to information at hand, is making arrangements to rebook them on other flights with either Ethiopian or other airlines flying to Africa.

A second incident with another B787 operated by Thompson Airways, which returned to the UK after taking off on a flight to the US, has doubled the spotlight on the troubled aircraft and will do little to calm the nerves of passengers around the world, who find themselves in coming days booked on the Dreamliner, a dream once more turned nightmare.

Boeing’s immediately shares dropped by around 7 percent when the news spread, an indicator of how the market reacted to more bad news as the scenario of yet another global grounding looms large, impacting perhaps even more heavily than during the January – April period on the airlines operating the aircraft type and the passengers who would have to fly on it. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from the world of aviation.