Boeing suspended test flights of the 787 Dreamliner on Wednesday while it investigates why a fire erupted on one of the planes, knocking out some electrical systems and forcing an emergency landing in Texas.
Flames broke out Tuesday in an electrical equipment bay in the rear of the cabin as the 787 neared the Laredo, Texas, airport, and some controls and cockpit displays failed, said a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because details aren’t public. The jet, carrying 42 people, landed safely.
“We have decided that until we better understand the events that happened that we’re not going to schedule any flight tests,” Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said Wednesday. “Whether that understanding comes within the next few hours or it takes longer than that, we just don’t know.”
The incident adds to the attention on a plane whose commercial debut has been delayed six times as Chicago-based Boeing struggles with new materials, parts shortages, redesign work and a greater reliance on outside suppliers. The 787 uses more electrical systems than traditional planes to save on fuel.
Data from the Dreamliner are being brought to Seattle, the home of Boeing’s commercial airplane operations, so the company can analyze what happened , Gunter said.
Flames were seen coming from the equipment bay as the 787 prepared to land, the person familiar with the matter said. The people onboard weren’t endangered by the flames, which had gone out by the time firefighters met the jet after landing , the person said.
The plane remains at the Laredo International Airport .
It’s too early to tell what effect the fire and emergency landing might have on testing or deliveries, Gunter said.
Boeing has six planes in the test fleet for the Dreamliner, which under the latest timetable will enter service around February, almost three years late. The 787 is the first jetliner made chiefly of plastic composites instead of aluminum.
On board the 787 were pilots, engineers and maintenance personnel, according to Boeing. They were evacuated using the jet’s emergency slides.
Some of those people have left Laredo, and the Dreamliner itself has been towed to “a secured area where it will not impede any traffic or any business at the airport,” Assistant City Manager Jesus Olivares said.
The flight’s purpose was to monitor the efficiency of the plane’s nitrogen generation system, with the crew collecting data on the system’s performance, according to Boeing. The pilot didn’t lose primary flight displays, the company said.
“It’s not uncommon to have failures and mishaps during a new aircraft’s test and development program,” said Paul Hayes, director of safety for London-based Ascend, a global aerospace and aviation consultant.
The Dreamliner in Laredo is the same one that was returned to the factory for two weeks in January so workers could clean out debris found in the fuel tanks. It’s being used for tests on the 787’s new electrical systems, autopilot controls, avionics, propulsion, and stability and control.
The 787 remains Boeing’s bestselling new plane ever, with 847 orders from 56 buyers.