A Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by Ethiopian Airlines caught fire at Britain's Heathrow airport on Friday, forcing the closure of both runways, in a blow for the U.S. planemaker that sent its New York shares down over 6 per cent.

Television footage showed the Dreamliner surrounded by foam used by firefighters. Heathrow briefly closed both its runways to deal with the fire which broke out while the plane was parked at a remote stand.

There were no passengers aboard the plane.

"A Boeing 787 Dreamliner suffered an on board internal fire," a Heathrow spokeswoman said. "The plane is now parked at a remote parking stand several hundred metres away from any passenger terminals."

It was not clear if the fire was related to the battery, which was the cause of the previous fires on Dreamliner.

Boeing said it was aware of the fire and had people on the ground working to determine the cause.

The Dreamliner, which was delivered to Ethiopian Airlines in November last year, arrived at Heathrow from Addis Ababa in the early hours of Friday, according to the Flightradar monitoring website. The plane was due to make the return journey later on Friday.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner was grounded by regulators in January after batteries burned on two of the jets within two weeks.

The new high-tech jet came under intense scrutiny and Boeing redesigned the battery system to add more layers of protection against fire. It resumed flying in April, with Ethiopian Airlines being the first to put it back into passenger service.

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Boeing shares sold off sharply on the NYSE once word of the plane fire spread.

The innovative 787 uses a powerful 1.5 megawatt electrical system to drive air conditioning and hydraulic functions that are run from compressed air on traditional aircraft designs. The electrical system experienced fire during its development that also prompted changes in its electrical panels.

Asked whether the incident could lead to the renewed grounding of Dreamliner jets, a spokesman for Britain's Civil Aviation Authority said decisions on the airworthiness of particular models of plane were made by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliners are powered by General Electric GEnx engines.

Boeing shares fell $5.01 US, or 4.7 per cent, to $101.87 in trading Friday. The shares earlier dropped as low as $98.99.

Shares of Boeing suppliers also fell. Precision Castparts fell $3.49, or 1.5 per cent, to $233.78. Spirit Aerosystems, which also makes parts for the 787, fell 48 cents, or 2.1 per cent, to $22.65.