United flight 1146 was flying to Newark, N.J., from Houston when the issue arose. It landed without incident in New Orleans at 9:25 a.m. Central time. Fire trucks met the plane as a precaution. The flight carried 174 customers and 10 crew members.
On approach into New Orleans, one of the pilots specified the area of the plane that fire crews should inspect after landing — behind the jet’s wings, where the “high-load electrical stuff is.” While radioing the tower, the plane’s pilots asked that emergency responders look for signs of “discoloration or dripping plastic.” The emergency crews found neither.
The pilot’s radioed remarks, recorded by LiveATC.net, prompted speculation that the incident could be related to a problem two years ago that disrupted 787 certification. In late 2010, a fire broke out in the rear fuselage electrical bay during a 787 test flight. Boeing determined then that debris was to blame for the fire and made “minor” design changes to the electrical panel and updated software.
Boeing is working with United to understand what caused the incident Tuesday, Lori Gunter, a Boeing spokeswoman, wrote in an emailed statement.
United began commercial service with the Boeing 787 in November, making it the first North American carrier to operate a Dreamliner. Boeing has delivered three 787s to United so far, and the plane with problems Tuesday was the most recent and entered service only last week, according to flight records.
Boeing’s 787 jet program has been closely watched as delays pushed delivery of the first aircraft back several years to September 2011. This year, the 787’s engines have come under scrutiny, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration to order frequent inspections of 787s powered by General Electric engines.
Also on Tuesday, the FAA ordered airlines to inspect fuel lines on 787s in service. Boeing already had recommended the action, company spokeswoman Gunter wrote in an email, “after a determination that two connectors had been improperly installed on airplanes that had been delivered.”
Inspections have been completed on about half of the 787s delivered. Boeing is conducting inspections on 787s that have not yet been delivered. The company also is “taking appropriate steps to ensure proper installation” on 787s that are in production.
Gunter emphasized that the FAA’s fuel-line mandate is unrelated to the emergency landing on Tuesday.