Boeing 787 struck by fire heads back to Seattle

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The second 787 test aircraft is set to return to Seattle, the first flight the aircraft has undertaken since a 9 November fire that threw the schedule of Boeing's flagship program into disarray.

ZA002 will return 30 November to Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, home to the 787's flight test operations, joining five other grounded test aircraft dispersed between Boeing Field and the company's Everett facility.

Boeing halted flight test operations immediately following the 9 November fire that occurred while the aircraft was on final approach to Laredo, Texas following an extended test of the fuel tank's nitrogen generation system (NGS).

 boeing 787 za002 @ laredo international airport, texas, stevie eliz

 
   

The fire, which was unrelated to the NGS testing, started in the P100 power distribution panel in the aircraft's aft electronic equipment bay, destroying the panel, igniting nearby insulation blankets and causing damage to the aircraft's composite primary structure.

Boeing says: "Maintenance technicians replaced the damaged P100 power distribution panel, repaired damage to interior composite structure and installed new insulation material."

The airframer adds: "The team in Laredo, Texas, has completed a series of ground test operations and inspections to validate the repairs."

The return of ZA002 will mark the reunification of the test fleet at Boeing's commercial base of operations. ZA001 and ZA005, returned to Seattle earlier in the month from remote sites in Rapid City, South Dakota and Victorville, California, respectively. Additionally, ZA003 and ZA004 have alternated spots at Boeing Field and Everett for maintenance operations. Boeing has continued ground testing of the fleet during a FAA-imposed suspension of 787 flight testing.

Boeing is currently evaluating its 787 program schedule as it makes provisions for updates to its power distribution software and minor hardware changes to the power distribution panels to prevent foreign object debris, which is believed to have caused the fire.

The airframer says the assessment will be ready in "several weeks".

The first 787 is currently scheduled for delivery to Japan's All Nippon Airways in the middle of the first quarter 2011, but that target will likely slip well into next year.