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'No evidence' of battery link in Heathrow Dreamliner fire

Preliminary investigations into a Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" that caught fire at London's Heathrow airport have found "no evidence of a direct causal relationship" with the batteries that left all 787s grounded this year.

A British specialist agency said on Saturday that its early investigations did not point to a link to the Ehiopian Airlines Boeing 787's batteries in a fire that temporarily halted air traffic at Britain's busiest hub, Heathrow Airport, on Friday.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) stressed that its investigations were ongoing, after the plane caught fire when parked in a remote area of the airport. Nobody was on board at the time.

"There has been extensive heat damage in the upper portion of the rear fuselage, a complex part of the aircraft, and the initial investigation is likely to take several days," the AAIB said in a statement. "However, it is clear that this heat damage is remote from the area in which the aircraft main and APU [Auxiliary Power Unit] batteries are located, and, at this stage, there is no evidence of a direct causal relationship."

Heathrow briefly closed both its runways to deal with the fire, a move the airport called standard procedure, causing delays and some cancellations. Normal service was resumed on Saturday.

News of the fire pushed Boeing's shares down 4.7 percent on Friday, with the stock closing at $101.87 (78 euros).

Barely back in the skies

The fleet of Boeing's most recently released model, which the company calls a "Dreamliner," was grounded for three months earlier this year after a pair of battery-related incidents - including a runway fire at Boston's Logan International Airport on January 7.

During these weeks out of the sky, Chicago-based Boeing developed a modified version of the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that serve as the plane's APU and provide power when the main engines are off. The batteries were one of the major additions to the new plane, also notable for its light-weight shell using many composite materials instead of steel, which entered commercial service in October 2011.

Ethiopian Airlines, the first carrier to put its 787s back in the skies late this April, has ordered a total of 10 Dreamliners, four of which have been delivered. The airline's chief executive, Tewolde Gebremariam, told news agency The Associated Press on Saturday that there was "no safety issue" with the 787s and that his airline would continue using them.

Boeing restarted deliveries on its outstanding 787 orders in May, after the grounding forced it to temporarily halt distribution of the planes.

Along with the British AAIB body, Boeing, Ethiopian Airlines, and US bodies the Federal Aviation Authority and the National Transportation Safety Board are helping with the investigation of Friday's fire.

msh/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)