Plane Catches Fire On Heathrow Runway

An investigation's begun into a fire on board a Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Heathrow airport.

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner caught fire at Heathrow Airport today.  Boeing's recently had to fix battery problems on its Dreamliner planes.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said nobody was on board at the time of the incident and there were no injuries.

The airport was closed to all flights as the emergency services dealt with the fire, which was reported shortly after 4.30pm.

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

There appeared to be damage to the top of the plane's fuselage.

The incident is certain to cause air traffic chaos at the start of a summer weekend and travel chaos around the airport.

The Dreamliner has been hit by problems on its way into service.

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

Thomson 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 Dreamliner 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 is due to get the first of its 16 Dreamliners in September next year.

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

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."

A Heathrow spokesman said:

"'We can confirm there has been an on-board internal fire involving an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft and the airport's emergency services are in attendance.  The aircraft was parked on a remote parking stand.  There were no passengers on board and there are no reported injuries at this time.  Arrivals and departures are temporarily suspended while airport fire crews attend to this incident. This is a standard procedure if fire crews are occupied with an incident."

A Heathrow spokeswoman said later: "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."

A Heathrow spokeswoman said later: "The runways reopened at around 6pm and services in and out of the airport are resuming."

Virgin Atlantic said it "remains committed" to taking on the first of its 16 Dreamliners in September next year.

A 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.

Meanwhile, Thomson Airways said a Dreamliner flying from Manchester to Florida today returned to Manchester after there was a "technical issue".

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 measures.  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."