Boeing keeps 787s grounded as fire probe continues

WASHINGTON, Nov 16, 2010 (AFP) - US aerospace giant Boeing said Tuesday it would extend a halt on test flights of its new 787 Dreamliner plane as it investigates a fire that forced an emergency landing last week.

All test flights in the delay-plagued program were halted last Wednesday after a fire aboard a test plane on Tuesday forced an emergency landing in Laredo, Texas.

AFP files - Boeing's long delayed new 787 Dreamliner takes to the sky at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, in this December 15, 2009 file photo.

"No decision has been reached on when flight testing of the 787 will resume," Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said in a statement.

"Before that decision can be made, we must complete the investigation and assess whether any design changes are necessary. Until that time, Boeing cannot comment on the potential impact of this incident on the overall program schedule."

Gunter said the Boeing team had made progress in understanding what happened in the incident aboard the ZA002 test plane, in which a failure of a P100 power panel led to a fire involving an insulation blanket. The insulation "self-extinguished" once the fault in the panel cleared.

She said the team had found the fire lasted less than 30 seconds and the entire incident lasted less than 90 seconds.

"The airplane concluded the event in a configuration that could have been sustained for the time required to return to an airport suitable for landing from any point in a typical 787 mission profile," she said.

The team in Texas has begun to prepare to install a new power panel and new insulation material, and is repairing minor structural damage, she said.

"The incident on ZA002 demonstrated many aspects of the safety and redundancy in the 787 design, which ensure that if events such as these occur, the airplane can continue safe flight and landing."

Boeing said it would fly two of its six 787 test aircraft back to its Seattle facility from locations in South Dakota and California, following approval of the plans by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The ZA001 was undergoing refueling in South Dakota when the incident on ZA002 occurred and the company decided to forgo additional flights.

The other plane, the ZA005, had been in California for testing.

Speculation is rising that Boeing may have to once again delay the delivery of the first 787 to launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA), now scheduled around February, about three years behind the initial plan.

Launched in April 2004, the new high-tech 787 has suffered a series of setbacks, many of them from challenges in the international production of parts for the mid-size plane.

Boeing says the 787, made essentially of composite materials, will deliver a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption compared with planes of similar size flying today.

In August, Boeing pushed back the 787 delivery schedule to the middle of the first quarter of 2011 from a target of the early weeks of 2011 due to a delay in the availability of a Rolls-Royce engine.

Boeing has 55 customers from six continents that have placed orders for 847 Dreamliners to date, valued at 147 billion dollars, the most successful launch of a new commercial airplane in its history.

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