Ethiopian sees fire-damaged 787 home for Christmas


The heck with Santa and his reindeer. You know who else will soon be in the skies? Ethiopian’s Queen of Sheba, with her shiny nose and rebuilt tail.

Yep, the 787 Dreamliner that caught fire on the stand at London’s Heathrow Airport on July, was too hot to handle then. Now ET-AOP is coolly winging its way back to Addis Ababa, according to Tweolde Gebremariam, CEO of Ethiopian.

He predicted as much when I chatted with him at a Star Alliance event in Vienna on 12 December. Now like the shepherd gathering his sheep Gebremariam is positively delighted that all five of his Dreamliners will be back together in time for Christmas. The company holiday card even features an Ethiopian 787 flying off into a snowflake speckled sky as if the past 11 months hadn’t been more nightmare than dream for Africa’s one and only 787 operator.


“The aircraft will be back to service tonight,” Gebremariam told me. And indeed, the Twitterverse is now aflutter with news that the aircraft is in flight.

The one-year old ET-AOP was being used on the Addis to London route on 12 July when, while waiting away from the gate at an airport stand, a fire erupted in the panel above the ceiling in the back of the cabin. At present, it is believed that wiring from the emergency locator transmitter ignited and triggered the blaze. Investigations in the United Kingdom and the United States are ongoing.

The Dreamliner has a composite rather than aluminum fuselage, which made fixing the incinerated section more complicated, as Dominick Gates reported in the Seattle Times. Boeing reportedly considered several options and ultimately decided to replace the rear fuselage using a new section produced at the 787 factory in Charleston, South Carolina. While Boeing would not confirm that report, or comment on how it accomplished the repair, it did acknowledge that its work on the Queen of Sheba is done.

On Saturday, online flight tracker, flightradar24 showed the airplane made a test flight to the west and north of Heathrow. “The repair and refurbishment took approximately two months and has returned the airplane to full structural integrity, with no degradation to passenger safety or comfort,” spokesman Wilson Chow told me in an email.

Like Ethiopian, Boeing is eager to put behind it all news of the Dreamliner that is less than flattering. Chow reminded me that 100 787s have been delivered to 16 customers and that 10 million passengers have flown more than 90 million miles. This may be an attempt to mitigate the widespread frustration experienced by all 787 operators when the airplane was grounded for several months after two mysterious battery fires in January 2013.

Even after the grounding order was lifted, airlines like Norwegian and LOT had other problems that were closely followed both in the news and among industry watchers, so much so, that LOT Polish CEO Sebastian Mikosz likened flying the Dreamliner to dating Paris Hilton. Every little thing that happens makes news, he told me.

For Ethiopian, the next big headline will be the Christmas Eve passenger carrying flight of the Queen of Sheba that Gebremariam is anticipating. But for Boeing and its other Dreamliner customers, the best news in 2014 might be no news at all.