December 4, 2021

Airlines Uncover Damage to Wiring on 787 Locators

United Airlines said it found the pinched wire, which connects the battery to the transmitter, on one of its six 787s. Christen David, a spokeswoman for United, said that the airline had found the problem in an inspection ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Japan’s All Nippon Airways said it had found a pinched wire in the same type of built-in beacon on one of its 787s. It said it also found a dented wire in a portable transmitter.

The airlines said they had removed damaged devices on the 787s and sent them to the manufacturer, Honeywell Aerospace, for evaluation.

The latest problems suggest that there is a more systemic problem with the devices, which are intended to broadcast signals about a plane’s location after a crash. British investigators say they believe that the fire aboard an Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner parked at Heathrow Airport on July 12 may have started in the beacon. On the 787, the transmitter is in the top rear of the airplane with no direct fire-suppression system.

A photograph of the charred device on that plane indicated that a cap over the battery had been closed on the wire. That apparently pinched the wire, which could have led to an eventual short that set off the fire.

United, All Nippon and the 11 other airlines that fly the fuel-efficient new planes said shortly after the Ethiopian fire that they had inspected the devices and found no problems. Over the last week, Boeing, the F.A.A. and regulators in Europe and Japan have told them to either remove or inspect the beacons, looking specifically for a pinched wire.

United initially performed a visual check on its 787s that failed to detect the pinched wire in the six-pound device but found it on the second look.

Regulators said on Friday that they were still trying to figure out whether the wires became pinched during the manufacturing at Honeywell, the installation into the planes at Boeing or during maintenance checks at the airlines. Honeywell declined to comment.

All Nippon Airways has taken the built-in locator beacons out of its eight domestically operated Dreamliners with the permission of local regulators and has inspected and put back those on its 12 787s that fly international routes because some countries require them.

The beacons are designed to guide rescuers to downed aircraft, although in most cases close radar tracking and eyewitness reports allow air traffic controllers to pinpoint crash sites.

Japan’s Transport Ministry informed All Nippon and Japan Airlines this week that they were permitted to remove the beacons, said Ryosei Nomura, a spokesman for the airline in Tokyo.

British investigators also have recommended that the F.A.A. review whether the order to inspect or remove the beacons should extend to other types of commercial, business and private jets that carry the Honeywell model.

While the transmitter is a standard item on most planes, Boeing has also had problems with the novel electrical systems on the 787, which entered service in late 2011.

Qatar Airways said on Friday that it had taken one of its Dreamliners out of service after what it described as a minor technical issue, as pressure mounted on the plane maker over possible new electrical problems with the advanced jet.

The airline and Boeing declined to give further details.

Boeing also said on Friday that it was shifting five commercial-aircraft executives, including Mike Sinnett, the chief of engineer on the 787, to new jobs. Mr. Sinnett will become the vice president for product development in charge of future plane concepts. Bob Whittington, the chief engineer on the 777 program, will take over for Mr. Sinnett on the 787.

Separately on Friday, federal regulators proposed a $2.75 million civil penalty against Boeing for installing nonconforming fasteners on its 777 jetliner and failing to correct its quality control system for two years.

The FA.A said that Boeing found it had been installing fasteners that were insufficiently tapered in September 2008. The plane maker stopped using those fasteners after it discovered the problem but, according to the F.A.A., failed to correct some of its manufacturing issues related to these fasteners until November 2010.

Boeing said that it was “working closely with the F.A.A. to address any remaining concerns.”

Hiroko Tabuchi contributed reporting.

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