By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — While Boeing maintains that a fire in an electronics compartment of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner last week and another fire on a test flight in 2010 are not related, the plane’s fire-suppression system does not protect the site where both fires occurred.
The incidents have some aviation experts questioning assurances by company officials, the Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the plane is safe.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating last week’s fire, and the FAA is reviewing the plane’s electrical system and the inspection process that led to the plane’s certification in 2011. The Dreamliner relies on its electrical components more than any similar aircraft, and much of that system is supplied by UTC Aerospace.
The Charlotte, N.C., company also furnishes the plane’s fire detection and suppression system, which uses Halon 1301 gas to extinguish fires in cargo compartments, but not the one that contains key electrical systems.
A spokesman for UTC Aerospace directed questions about the plane’s design to Boeing.
Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said that fire-suppression systems are not typical in electronics compartments. “That’s not unique to the 787,” she said. “It’s true of all Boeing airplanes.”
Though production of Halon 1301 has been banned for most uses for nearly two decades because it depletes ozone, it still is commonly used in fire-suppression systems on aircraft. Barry Chase, a fire protection engineer at the National Fire Prevention (sic) Association in Quincy, Mass., said that another common use in the past was to protect computer rooms.
“It’s not electrically conductive,” he said. “It was used that way for a very long time.”
Editor's note: NFPA 12A, Standard on Halon 1301 Fire Extinguishing Systems, contains minimum requirements for total flooding Halon 1301 fire extinguishing systems.