Officials: Smoke filled the cabin of Dreamliner in Logan fire — after passengers had disembarked

Firefighters accessed the affected area in the underbelly.
Firefighters accessed the affected area in the underbelly.Boston Fire Department

A fire broke out this morning in a battery in the underbelly of a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 jetliner parked at Logan International Airport, filling the plane’s cabin with heavy smoke after passengers had disembarked, Massport officials said today.

Flight 8, a high-tech Dreamliner that had been in service for less than a month, arrived from Tokyo at 10 a.m. carrying 173 passengers and 11 crew members. After the passengers disembarked, the cleaners who boarded the plane reported smelling smoke. A mechanic opened an access panel to a battery compartment and tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the blaze before Massport firefighters were summoned at 10:37 a.m., officials said.

The firefighters were on the scene within three minutes, said Ed Freni, Massport aviation director.

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Massport Fire Rescue Chief Robert J. Donahue said arriving firefighters encountered heavy smoke in the cabin and used thermal imaging devices to determine the source of the fire.

“We found a fire condition about midships in the avionics compartment underneath,” he said. He said the fire began in a battery that was part of an auxiliary power unit that is only used when the plane is on the ground and its engines are turned off.

The fire was extinguished within an hour, officials said. Donahue said firefighters used the halotron fire extinguishing agent. No injuries were reported.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it would send investigators to Boston to look into the incident, the latest of several electrical and mechanical mishaps involving the much-anticipated high-tech plane known as the Dreamliner.

On Dec. 5, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered inspections of all 36 787s in service after it received reports of fuel leaks on two aircraft operated by foreign airlines. Several incorrectly assembled fuel couplings on in-service and in-production 787s were subsequently discovered. The conditions could result in fuel leaks that could lead to a loss of power or fire, according to the FAA directive.

Boeing is also investigating electrical issues on the Dreamliner after incidents involving at least four aircraft, according to several published news reports. A United Airlines flight from Houston to Newark was diverted to New Orleans last month after an electrical problem occurred mid-flight, and Qatar Airways later said it grounded a 787 for the same reason. United took another jet out of service to replace a power panel and generator, and a power panel on an aircraft set to be delivered to Qatar Airways was replaced following a test flight.

The Dreamliner, which is made with durable, lightweight composites, relies heavily on its electrical system, using more electricity to power its primary and secondary systems than conventional planes do.

“We are aware of the event and working with our customer,” Boeing said in a statement. The FAA issued a statement saying it was “looking into” the incident. The Japan Airlines public relations office didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

Freni said he believed that this particular plane had gone into service only recently, in the past few weeks.

He said he had seen the plane land from his office. “I saw it taxiing. There was no indication of smoke at that point,” he said.

Flight 8 was expected to turn around and fly back this afternoon, but it has now been grounded.

The Dreamliner nonstop flight connecting Boston and Tokyo has been a pivotal part of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s efforts to expand trade between Massachusetts and Asia.

Passengers who had been aboard the flight said they were unaware that a fire had broken out.

Noriyuki Sakai, an engineer visiting Boston on business, said, the flight was “very usual, and there were no problems.”

“Oh, that’s where it was?” a surprised Yutaro Yamaguchi, 16, said. “I didn’t smell anything.”

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