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Sunday 24 September 2017

One Boeing plane catches fire at Heathrow, another suffers "technical issue" in Manchester

Neil Lancefield, Tim Moynihan and David Mercer

An air accident investigation is under way after an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner caught fire at Heathrow Airport.

The aircraft, which has been plagued with problems since its launch, caught fire while on a remote parking stand shortly after 4.30pm, a Heathrow spokesman said.

Nobody was on board at the time of the incident and there were no injuries, he added.

Runways were closed to all flights for an hour and a half while emergency crews dealt with the incident, causing diversions and long delays for passengers.

Meanwhile, Thomson Airways said a Dreamliner flight from Manchester to Florida had to be diverted back to the UK earlier today due to a "technical issue".

Boeing temporarily withdrew the Dreamliner from service earlier this year for modifications after concerns that batteries on board could cause fires.

A Heathrow spokesman said: "Heathrow's runways are now fully open following an earlier fire on board an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft which the airport's emergency services attended.

"The aircraft was parked on a remote parking stand and there were no passengers on board. Arrivals and departures were temporarily suspended while airport fire crews attended to this incident. This is a standard procedure if fire crews are occupied with an incident."

The fire appeared to have caused damage to the top of the plane's fuselage.

An Air Accidents Investigation Branch spokesman said: "We are aware of the incident at Heathrow and have sent a team to investigate."

A Boeing spokesman said: "We're aware of the event. We have Boeing personnel on the ground at Heathrow and are working to fully understand and address this."

Boeing shares fell sharply on the New York Stock Exchange after news broke of the incident.

Thomson Airways became the first British carrier to operate the Dreamliner earlier this week, and is taking delivery of eight of the planes.

The company had hoped to take delivery of the first of its 787s in time to start Dreamliner operations in May.

But a series of battery problems led to the grounding of the plane earlier this year while modifications were carried out.

Thomson had to scrap plans to use the ultra-green aircraft in May and June, and only received its first plane in June.

The battery problems followed endless production difficulties for the Dreamliner, which has been marketed as a quiet, fuel-efficient aircraft carrying between 201 and 290 passengers on medium-range routes.

It should have entered passenger service in 2008 but it was not until October 2011 that the first commercial flight was operated by Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways.

British Airways is taking delivery of the first two of its 24 Dreamliners, while Virgin Atlantic said it "remains committed" to taking the first of its 16 Dreamliners in September next year.

A Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman said: "Virgin Atlantic is in regular communication with Boeing to understand all the technical issues around the aircraft and the airline remains committed to taking delivery of 16 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners from autumn 2014.

"We are confident that Boeing and the relevant authorities are working hard to ensure that the appropriate action is being taken."

Three flights bound for Heathrow from Lagos, Shanghai and Delhi were diverted to London Gatwick due to the disruption, Virgin Atlantic said.

Thomson Airways said its Dreamliner flight to Florida was flown back to Manchester airport this afternoon as a "precautionary measure".

A spokeswoman said: "Thomson Airways can confirm that flight TOM126 travelling from Manchester to Sanford, Florida experienced a technical issue and the aircraft returned to Manchester Airport, as a precautionary measure.

"Passengers have disembarked and our dedicated team of engineers are now inspecting the aircraft. Our customers will be moved to an alternative aircraft to ensure they get away on their holiday as soon as possible.

"The safety of our customers and crew is of paramount importance and we would like to apologise for the delay caused."

Press Association

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