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U.S. orders 3,800 Honeywell aircraft beacons inspected

By Alwyn Scott

SEATTLE (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Tuesday ordered airlines to inspect more than 3,800 planes to ensure that emergency locator beacons sold by Honeywell International do not have battery problems that could cause a fire.

The Federal Aviation Administration order requires inspections of beacons on planes made by Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, ATR and Dassault Aviation SA. An earlier FAA order only required checks of the beacons installed on Boeing 787 aircraft.

UK investigators have identified a Honeywell emergency locator transmitter (ELT) as the likely source of a blaze on a Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner parked at London's Heathrow Airport, and recommended that the Beacon be turned off.

The locators are used to help rescuers find a plane that has crashed.

In July, Boeing asked airlines to inspect the Honeywell beacons on planes it had manufactured, looking for faults that could cause a short circuit and fire. The units use a lithium-manganese battery.

In August, Transport Canada ordered Canadian airlines worldwide to inspect the beacons on a broad list of aircraft for possible wiring problems that could lead to a fire. That order affected about 3,600 planes, Transport Canada told Reuters. The units are made in Canada.

A draft of the latest FAA order was in the Federal Register on Tuesday, and was scheduled to be published and to take effect on September 18. It affects 3,832 Honeywell beacons installed on U.S. aircraft. The UK is leading the investigation into the cause of the fire in London, and that probe is continuing.

The FAA said operators of airplanes with the beacons should look for damage to the battery cover, the black protective cover of the battery, battery wires and insulation and the transmitter unit, wires connected to the battery and problems with the battery cover gasket.

The FAA gave airlines up to 120 days to inspect and correct any faults found, an unusually long time that the agency said was intended to avoid disrupting airline operations. The Canadian regulator gave its airlines 150 days to comply.

Honeywell said it is cooperating with all of the agencies investigating the cause of the fire, which has not been finally determined. It said the required inspections are "precautionary" and that it has supplied ELTs "since the mid-2000s and have never before had any issues reported related to fire or heat"

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by David Gregorio)

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