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An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 777 Freighter similar to the one that caught fire in Shanghai. (Photo: Boeing)

Ethiopian Airlines 777F Catches Fire In Shanghai

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 777F caught fire at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Wednesday while preparing for a flight to South America, the airline said in a statement. All crews working with the aircraft are reportedly safe.

For a time after flights broke out, flights were diverted from Pudong to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.

The fire was extinguished just after 5 p.m. It seems to have broken out near the aft fuselage of the aircraft, leaving scorched burn marks between the rear cargo door and the tail. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation by both China’s Civil Aviation Administration and Ethiopian Airlines.

“Ethiopian Airlines B777 freighter aircraft, with registration number ET-ARH, caught fire while loading cargo at Pudong Shanghai Airport today. The aircraft was on a regular scheduled cargo service from Shanghai to Sao Paulo-Santiago via Addis Ababa. All ground staff and flying crew are safe,” Ethiopian Airlines said in its statement. “Ethiopian has collaborated with all concerned authorities and contained the fire. The cause of the incident is under investigation by the appropriate authorities.”

Even though it is currently unknown how the fire began, it is raising renewed questions over the acceptability of lithium batteries in flight. Relatively flammable, the batteries are prohibited on passenger flights but can still be shipped on dedicated cargo services. And while there are strict rules about how they can be carried on aircraft at all, there are issues with the incorrect declaration of the batteries and poor packaging. A source close to the matter said that three pallets of lithium batteries were onboard the 777 at the time of the fire, per The Load Star.

The incident involved ET-ARH, a five-year-old aircraft. It had arrived from Brussels the day before and was on its way to Santiago, Chile via São Paulo.

Cargo services have proved vital for Ethiopian Airlines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While passenger services have dwindled, the carrier has converted 25 Boeing 737 passenger planes into cargo aircraft. Despite losing some $55 billion due to travel restrictions, company CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said that cargo and maintenance services have helped the airline stay afloat, per Anadolu Agency.

While the loss of one aircraft will not cripple Ethiopian’s cargo operations, the loss of such a big aircraft will raise logistical challenges for the airline in the near future. The carrier has lost considerable capacity from just one aircraft. Ethiopian will undoubtedly need to mobilize to adapt to this loss. The airline has nine 777Fs remaining in its fleet, of which it owns six and leases three, per PlaneSpotters.

Another Ethiopian Airlines aircraft, a Boeing 787 Dreamliners, caught fire at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013 because two bare wires were touching location equipment, igniting a spark and burning through the fuselage. Ethiopian currently flies cargo services to over 70 destinations around the world on each inhabited continent.

John McDermott
John McDermott
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