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Boeing Dreamliner probe finds recurring battery fault "extremely unusual"

posted 18 Jan 2013, 05:31 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 18 Jan 2013, 05:32 ]

Japanese inspectors find recurring Dreamliner battery problems in Boston and Japan"extremely unusual" as U.S. and Japanese aviation safety officials wrap up their initial investigation with further checks to be held in Tokyo.

TAKAMATSU, KAGAWA PREFECTURE, JAPAN (JANUARY 18, 2013) (REUTERS) -  U.S. and Japanese aviation safety officials wrapped up their initial investigation of a badly damaged battery from a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner jet on Friday (January 18), saying further checks would be held in Tokyo and could take a week to complete.

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Boeing joined Japanese authorities looking into what caused warning lights to go off on an All Nippon Airways Co domestic flight earlier this week, prompting the aircraft to make an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport in western Japan.

The incident prompted regulators in the United States and around the world to ground the 50 Dreamliners in service. The lightweight, mainly carbon-composite 787 has been plagued by mishaps, with safety concerns centred on its use of lithium-ion batteries, which pack more energy and are faster to recharge but which are potentially more volatile.

A Japanese safety official onsite at Takamatsu told reporters on Friday it was possible that excessive electricity may have overheated the battery and caused liquid to spill out. Pictures released by investigators of the battery showed a misshapen, burnt out blue metal box with clear signs of liquid seepage.

At a news conference, the Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB) said the charred batteryand the systems around it would be sent to Tokyo for more checks. It said if found it "extremely unusual" that there were similarities with an earlier battery fire on a JapanAirlines Co 787 parked at Boston Logan International Airport.

"In Boston, it was the APU (auxiliary power unit) battery. This time, it was the mainbattery. So these extremely similar incidents happening within two to three days of each other is extremely unusual," said Hideyo Kosugi, head of the JTSB team.

Kosugi added that a neutral report would be published with speed on what they viewed as a high-profile case.

"The effect of this incident on the airline industry is big and we fully understand the importance of publishing a neutral report as quickly as possible."

Kosugi said the battery failure in Boston appeared to have been worse than the incident in western Japan.

"From what I heard from the U.S. delegation, the way the battery failed in Boston was worse, according to them, as the fire-brigade was called in and the battery had to be sprayed with anti-flammable material," said Kosugi, adding:

"The U.S. inspectors told us that they are feeling the pressure to hurry up and finish with the investigation."

GS Yuasa Corp, the Japanese firm that makes batteries for the Dreamliner, said it sent three engineers to Takamatsu to help the investigation.

Shares in the Kyoto-based battery maker rose as much as 3.9 percent on Friday, having dropped around 18 percent since the January 7 battery fire in the auxiliary power unit (APU) of the JAL plane at Boston.

Japan is the biggest market so far for the 787, with ANA and JAL operating 24 of the 290-seat wide-bodied planes, which have a list price of 207 million USD. Boeing has orders for close to 850 of the planes.