*Updated  with link to 787 management change

After days of stonewalling it has been confirmed that a Qatar Airways 787 caught fire, according to some reports, in a rear underfloor part of the fuselage, last Sunday as it was moving into position to take off from Doha airport.

The fire has been described as ‘serious’ in some quarters, ‘not serious’ by the airline, and also by one contact as having extensively damaged an important panel in the electrical bay that also caught fire in a test flight Dreamliner in November 2010, causing an emergency diversion to Laredo where that jet was evacuated.

It may be another reason for Qatar Airways to be reluctant to restore its original ambition to fly 787s between Doha and Perth from 1 February, a long oceanic route route with comparatively few emergency diversionary airport options along the way that would have become Australia’s first scheduled Dreamliner service, but has since been overlooked by the airline as it rebuilds and expands its services with the plastic electric jet.

It is assumed that Boeing as the manufacturer immediately notified the US FAA, the certifying authority for the Dreamliners, as to the incident. The US safety investigator, the NTSB, is continuing to seek a cause for the heavy duty lithium-ion battery problems that saw the FAA scramble to catch up with Japan’s decision to ground the Dreamliners in January after two serious and high profile incidents in Japan registered 787s.

While that problem, apparently unrelated to other 787 problems, remains of unknown cause, the Dreamliner were allowed back into the air after Boeing devised and began fitting super fire boxes containing the lithium ion batteries in a way in which senior management so reassuringly told the industry that they could burn for hours without compromising (that is, burning through) the structure of the jet and any at risk critical control systems.

There are numerous stories about the Qatar incident in the international media today, including here and here.

Although the incident was described by Qatar Airways as minor the jet has not flown for six days.

Unrelated to the January lithium-ion incidents and the Qatar electrical bay incident of this week, more defective or incorrectly wired or installed ELTs or crash location beacons are being found in 787s already in service.

These discoveries are largely being made by airlines that have been faster to move on concerns about the beacons than the FAA, which has taken its own sweet time to essentially adopt the measures promptly recommended by the UK Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB) following a very damaging fire in an Ethiopian Airways 787 at London’s Heathrow Airport on 12 July.

Among the stories about the suspect beacons is this one about discoveries made by All Nippon Airways.  One of United’s six 787s has also been found to have been fitted with a dubious ELT. According to the UK safety investigator, an in flight ignition of an ELT could have serious consequences.  The  AAIB also recommended the FAA consider extending safety advice concerning the beacons to other types of airliners that commonly use a very similarly designed beacon from Honeywell, the maker of the 787 beacons.

The 787 electrical safety issues have become a study in the public relations management (and suppression) of bad news as well as matters of significant public concern at the safety of flight level.

*Mike Sinnett the long time chief project engineer for the 787 has been moved to what the Seattle Times in this detailed report calls a ‘less stressful position’ in the company.

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