Ethiopian 787 fire at LHR doesn’t look like it’s battery-related

Fire damage of the Ethiopian 787 via Twitter

Here’s a link to some photos.

Here’s a link to a Boeing document showing flammable areas on the 787.

New high-resolution image shows greater detail of fire damage, ribbing. via NYCAviation.

82 Comments on “Ethiopian 787 fire at LHR doesn’t look like it’s battery-related

  1. It looks like this will be the first serious damage to the composite fuselage structure on a 787. It will be interesting to see how Being will deal with the repair. As to how Boeing will repair the damage to the 787 reputation, that is another story…

  2. There is a compartment access door just below L4 Door (AFT) that is open. This could indicate that the fire originated from below the floor.

  3. Looking at the Boeing fire document, it also could be a leaking APU fuel line, or it started in the aft F/A crew rest bunk area.

    • but if it were the cabin crew, you would have a symmetrical pattern, it is only on one side…

      • The only pictures of the crown damage I have seen are from the left side of the airplane. That does not prove the damage is asymmetrical. But I still believe it could be from the APU fuel line.

    • the leaking fuel line looks plausible, in a restricted place between the cabin crew and the fuselage skin

      • Why would a leaking fuel line start to burn on a “cold” plane?
        My first order expectation would be a perfect mess but
        not a fire.

        • Who, how, and why was the fire discovered? Was there power on the airplane from the APU? Was a crew aboard preparing the aircraft? Was line maintenance being performed on the airplane?

  4. It still can be a battery fire. Remember, the 3 previous battery fires/smoking/whatever you want to call it have only caused internal damage. In this case damaged exterior might indicate longer lasting fire that spread above or as hypothesised aft galley fire. I guess we’ll know more details soon. At any rate a terrible week for transport safety with TGV train crash today and earlier 777 crash landing.

    • Martin :
      At any rate a terrible week for transport safety with TGV train crash today and earlier 777 crash landing.

      Not to mention an estimated 50 dead in the freight train derailment at Lac-Megantic.

    • Don’t forget the Twin Otter crash in Alaska, 10 fatalities.

      Martin, I don’t see how the APU Battery (the one closest to the damage on this B-787) could have spread to a location above the L-3 door without causing other damage from the aft electronics compartment (at the rear of the wing).

      To me it the suspects are still the aft galley, APU fuel line, or the aft crew rest area.

      Scott, I think B/E Aerospace might make the galleys on both the B-787 and the A-350.

    • I think it is highly improbable that this was a battery fire. If the APU battery (closest large Li-ion battery to the observed external damage) would have started the fire, the aft cargo door would have been opened in the firefighting efforts, and would also likely have sustained fire damage during the time it would have taken for the fire to spread from the aft E/E bay to the crown right in front of the tail. The following picture shows the right side of the aircraft with the aft cargo door closed.

      I also think it is similarly unlikely that the fire originated under the floor in the bulk cargo hold. If that was the case, I think way more damage would be visible. The fire would have been large to break through the floor and then through the ceiling.

    • It is reported this morning that at least 18 people are dead following the collision between a bus and a truck. Indeed it is a bad week for transportation.

  5. As for me it is worse that the cause of the fire is not the battery because it can be said there will be no specific target and more likely a organizational problem which is much harder to solve than a isolate problem…

    • it is probably not, at it should be under the floor, isn’t? I think a leaking fuel line for the APU as stated by kc135topboom could be the reason, as the damage looks intensive and extensive but limited to the area between cabin crew and fuselage skin and only to the left side.

    • They could not open the cargo door probably because there was no power on the aircraft.

  6. Martin :
    …with TGV train crash today and earlier 777 crash landing.

    This is a suburban commuter train, not a TGV

  7. I would not be surprised to see this frame written off…

    Not good news for Boeing for sure, even if this is not related with the main design the impact will be bad..

    • CBL :
      I would not be surprised to see this frame written off…

      The scorch marks are certainly evidence of an intense fire. The number of fire fighting vehicles around this aircraft attest to that. And if the fire originated from below the floor, say in the aft cargo, or in the bulk, there would probably be no need to repair the aircraft. The composite structure would make it too difficult to carry out such an extensive repair scheme. I would assume that if the fuselage was made out of composite panels, a la A350, it would be easier to replace large composite sections.

      • “I would assume that if the fuselage was made out of composite panels, a la A350, it would be easier to replace large composite sections.”

        Each A350 fuselage section is only made from 4 panels, so the panels are pretty big. Replacing a panel would be a major undertaking, not even accounting for the fact that a fire of this nature would have done extensive damage to the underlying metal frame.

        In my opinion, Airbus claiming that panels make A350 repairs much easier than 787 barrel repairs is a bit of marketing hype. Composite splicing techniques have come a long way.

        At any rate, it will be very interesting to see what Ethiopian and Boeing decide with this frame.

  8. Wouldn’t it be something if this was a lithium battery in some electronic device (phone, etc) that overheated, or self ignited, spreading the fire through the bedding to the plane itself? If so what next, a new stainless steel reinforced firebox for the crew rest area too with additional venting?

    PS aren’t plane fuselages supposed to be fire proof? If true what kind of inside temperature was there to burn through it?

    • No aircraft fuselage, whether metal or composite, will last indefinitely in a fire. Even cooler candle-like flames (1000C) will eventually melt through an aluminum skin if enough combustible material is around.

    • Apparently this aircraft had been parked for a long while and was not scheduled to depart for some time. So the probability for having such a device on board should quite low.

      Indeed the 787 fuselage was designed to be able to sustain an intense fire, at least for a short period of time. And to see scorch marks like this on top of the fuselage is a good indication of how intense and sustained this fire was.

      • Very hard to believe there was enough combustible material on board of this plane to sustain a fire of this magnitude (visible thermal damage to the fuselage) even if the crew was smuggling something in their quarters. Plus where would the oxygen come from if that was an ordinary fire?

        This leaves only two other sources energy, fuel, but that again needs oxygen to burn and batteries of sufficient capacity.

        And they have those on this aircraft, don’t they?

  9. IMHO the FAA/NTSB released the B787 too early back into revenue service. Imagine if this had happened whilst in the air. There are some fundamental fire-related issues with this aircraft that need to be thoroughly understood and corrected before it can be safely brought back into the air.

    • Why, we don’t know the cause of the fire yet. It could be a FA left the coffee pot on for all we know at this point.

      • Indeed, or perhaps a chinese lantern landed on it. But seriously there have been far too many incidents on this aircraft in its short service life for comfort. Just today a Florida-bound Thomson airlines 787 was forced to return to Manchester airport due to a technical issue. I suppose all these could be attributed to “teething” problems for a new aeroplane. But the 787 has had 6 major mechanical incidents this year alone with less than 60 aircraft in service. That is a higher rate of failure than more mature aircraft e.g. the 737 or A320, I don’t believe this to be normal. I’m afraid I won’t be boarding a 787 any time soon or until they find root cause, I don’t care what the FAA or NTSB say.

      • I’d like to know examples of incidents where someone left a coffee pot on, on an aircraft that has been powered down for several hours. Even if the FAs missed it, surely the mechanics or whoever who powered down the aircraft wouldn’t have? Can it even be on in such a case? I find it hard to believe the aircraft’s systems would allow the coffee pot to be left on while the aircraft is powered down.

      • I do believe galley-grade coffeemakers turn off automatically in order to prevent fires. You can’t buy those ones at Wal-Mart for $20 …

  10. maybe the cause was water on the carbon panel’s dripping into the wiring? i hope it is not grounded again it look like a realy nice aircraft

  11. I guess nobody dares to talk about the seriousness of this for the program. Today also a Thompson 787 returned to base halfway because of a technical issue. And its not the first this week. Everybody is holding his breath.

    Some time ago I stated a problematic development would cause problematic introduction. Unfortunately I’m right. I guess every aviation enthousiast wants to see the Dreamliner move on. It has had its share of pain. Technology has no mercy though..

    • Always happy to read your support for the B-787 program, keesje.

      An airplane RTB because of a technical happens everyday, that is not news, nor an indictment of the B-787.

      Let’s just wait to find out what happen before and speculation.

    • What was this “technical problem”? I’ve not yet seen any report indicating what specifically it was.

    • “I guess nobody dares to talk about the seriousness of this for the program.”

      Are you kidding, keesje! The media is full of speculation as to how serious this is for the 787 program. It’s kind of hard to intelligently discuss this if no one knows what actually happened yet. Lets wait until some real facts come in before we start formulating our judgements.

  12. It probably has no bearing on the incident, but today was London’s hottest day of the year. Also a Thompson Dreamliner returned to Manchester after a technical issue occurred.

  13. The flight crew rest area is right below the area with the hull damage. Could be from a left over crew item, or a cleaning crew member “nesting”. Is there power for crew use up there.

    • I once found a half smoked stamped out spliff on the galley floor of a flight ready to leave from Amsterdam.. You never know what the cleaners are up to 😉

  14. kc135topboom :
    Who, how, and why was the fire discovered? Was there power on the airplane from the APU?

    The plane had been sitting in a remote area for about eight hours and was at least four hours away from its next scheduled flight. In addition to that there are evidence that no power was on the aircraft since the fire fighters were unable to open the rear cargo door. Therefore I must conclude that this was a dormant aircraft. And if it was so it would mean that the fire had probably gone undetected for a while before the fire fighters were finally called in. That would explain the extent of the damages.

    • During the battery hickups information was released that the plane “wakes up” whenever
      access panels are opened ( one reason for run down batteries ).
      If this does not happen for door access my guess would be that there was an already existing power issue ( independent of the fire or not and does not indicate cause.
      just that not being able to open the door would indicate no power?)

  15. 1) Apparently no crew rest on ET planes?
    2) Today was very warm and sunny in London. When would the a/c be switched on in order to cool down the plane prior to flight?

  16. As was mentioned: The crew rest area is exactly below the charred surface (If ET actually configured them accordingly). Having worked for airlines form the Middle East, I must say the first thing that came to mind is “smoking crews”. The crews of the airlines I worked with would definitely be using the crew rest areas in order to smoke. It is conceivable some went for a quick smoke before disembarking and one didn’t extinguish his.her cigarette properly. If that was the case, I hope this will make airline managements deal with this abuse more severely.

    • Apparently the ET configuration of the 787 does NOT have a crew rest in that area. I don’t what’s there instead, though.

  17. An interesting situation here, firstly the cause, secondly how Boeing will resolve the damaged airframe, write off or repairable? Initial visuals indicate damage that it been a more conventional designed fuselage would be repairable, whatever the result it has far reaching implications.

    Fortunately this aircraft was parked adjacent to Heathrow’s fire station, with firemen attending within seconds of the call, I dread to think what damage might have occurred had it occurred at Addis Ababa.

    One could validly question Ethiopian Airlines credentials & quite how it became an operator so early beggars belief.

  18. I think there would be some internal power available as the plane has to be cleaned so lights and power outlets for vacuum cleaners etc have to be available. Did not see any external GPU in evidence, so one of the battery circuits could be energized..

    Repair will be a problem. Suspect a temporary fix and an unpressurised flight back to Boeing for a couple of new barrels.

  19. If I’m not wrong aircraft is designed to contain as little flammable material as possible, major exception being fuel of course. Given the external damage, what could potentially sustain such fire? Any parts of the airplane or external sources brought in by the crew? Also let’s remember 777 fire earlier this week. It has also caused most of damage to the crown of the airplane and the damage was quite extensive. According to NTSB the fuel has not leaked. The source of the fire was oil leaked by one of the engines. Again I’m wondering what sustained that fire?

    • There is still plenty of flammable material on board aircraft. What has changed is the time it takes for the material to catch fire and the toxicity level of the fumes.

    • It should be noted that in the 787 all-electrical architecture, the air conditioning system is the one that draws the most power.

    • Apparently there is no AC in that location, either.

      The mystery deepens …

      • For now the only thing we can see in the available pictures is fire damage in the crown area between L4 and R4 doors. But that does not necessarily mean that the fire could not possibly have been initiated somewhere else on the aircraft. Because we know that fire can propagate horizontally.

      • True enough Normand. However, if the fire started somewhere else and propagated horizontally in the crown there would need to be a concentration of combustible material under where the damage is seen relative to other areas in the crown. Otherwise damage would also be seen in other areas of the crown as well.

  20. This is not good news for the 787 , it is really troubling to have an airplane sitting for hours dormant ,on fire . Boeing would do well to identify the root cause for this one at least. They should also get their act together re the tech issues cropping up almost every few days- which is not right for a program delayed by more than 4 years. By now, it should have matured a lot. It is becoming a technical nightmare for Boeing.
    Let us also see how they repair the fuselage – it could be another big technical challenge..

  21. The aircraft was apparently dormant, no external power, no APU running. No way anything having anything to do with AC was powered in such situation.

  22. According to the NYT the plane was connected to an external power source, thus all bets are off, there was sufficient energy available for the plane to self destruct if it so desired, coffee maker is however the most stupidest suggestion I have heard so far but there is a chance that they will try to go with that, it sounds simple enough to the general public to excuse. And some excuse they desperately need now, sweeping things under the carpet will not work the second time around. Or will it again?

    The thing that I don’t understand though is that Boing claims that 787s are in constant contact with their monitoring centers, automatically so, as long as the planes are powered, reporting everything. So how come London airport fire crew arrived so late that the fuselage burned through?

  23. When the battery fires happened I suggested unstable power supply due to the effects of starting and stopping large motors etc could have damaged the battery and charger set. Since the re-start of 787 operations a number of el problems have occurred, notably failures in sensors. Now el problems in toilets as well. Now consider how often an aircraft burns. 787s have been in operations an average of 4? months since the grounding and we have a serious fire in 1 of 66 aircraft, that is like 3 per year, at that rate we should see 50-60 777s burn out per year. Statistically this is most likely a 787 problem, I think some form of electrical, but not battery, problem is quite likely.

  24. Some kind of short circuit in the galley?
    The source of flame does not seem to be in the proximity of the upper skin.

  25. Giergiel Jerzy :
    No they are not. See:,d.cGE
    It takes more that 17kW/m2 to ignite them. When ignited they burn for a very short while (resin burning out) after which only carbon matrix remains that will “smolder” only when a significant external heat flux is maintained.

    Strange, I read different conclusions for test results (page 31 same ref)
    “Flame spread will occur for heat fluxes below 18 kW/m2 after preheating for 4 minutes with upward flame spread occurring for as low as 10 kW/m2 with rates of the order of 1 mm/s”

  26. Thanks for the correction, 18kW/m2 was quoted for non preheated situation. Still we are talking about kWs that have to come from somewhere, fuel leak ignited by some minor spark somewhere (apparently the quality of 787 electrical work is a bit shoddy) could deliver that, but overall CFRPs do not release massive amount of energy when they burn and what they release is rather short-lived, 3 mins or thereabouts if I read their charts correctly. In other words it appears CFRPs are not that easy to ignite, and once burning they extinguish quickly. Thus a cigarette butt, or a malfunctioning coffee pot, a favorite of the NYT is a sheer impossibility imho, either fuel or oil burning, or at least a few kWs worth of an electrical short somewhere. All possible, the thing was “plugged-in”, that is powered externally at the time.


    The primary issue is how to sweep this whole incident under the rug. They will succeed I think, given their handling of the previous issue. The secondary is the cost of repairing the fuselage as so many here observed, this could potentially affect future purchases from this program.

    Re Ethiopians being the first to the gate, what major airline would risk buying early samples from the program that ambitious. And they and the Poles seem to be paying for that, getting what some termed “terrible teens”, mercilessly patched together test platforms essentially.

  27. I would never step into an aircraft which fuselage can be scorch burned by a coffeepot.

    • That incident is a lot more serious than this. And if it was just a coffee pot we would know by now. Boeing, along with the authorities, would actually be quite relieved to pinpoint this problem to a mere appliance. I am afraid it might have something to do with one of the systems (air conditioning?) that could have created a short circuit, or something like that. Or possibly a fault with the electrical system itself.

      What worries me is that there are still very few pictures out there, and little information as to what happened, even approximately. It’s almost total silence. Even the rumour mill is turning very slowly. It seems everybody is stunt by what happened so early after the Dreamliner was authorized to fly passengers again.

  28. Galley supplier is said to be JAMCO, japanese company, it is the new name of a company who makes seats for aircraft .
    Few years ago they were nearly bankrupt after regulators discovered that those seat were not properly certified … SIA experienced this situation, as far as I remember ..
    Now question is : are the galleys and their coffee pot properly certified ?? …

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