Dreamliner probe widens after excess battery voltage ruled out

Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:43am EST
 

By Andrea Shalal-Esa and Peter Henderson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. safety investigators on Sunday ruled out excess voltage as the cause of a battery fire this month on a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner jet operated by Japan Airlines Co (JAL) and said they were expanding the probe to look at the battery's charger and the jet's auxiliary power unit.

Last week, governments across the world grounded the Dreamliner while Boeing halted deliveries after a problem with a lithium-ion battery on a second 787 plane, flown by All Nippon Airways Co (ANA), forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing in western Japan.

A growing number of investigators and Boeing executives are working around the clock to determine what caused the two incidents which the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says released flammable chemicals and could have sparked a fire in the plane's electrical compartment.

There are still no clear answers about the root cause of the battery failures, but the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board's statement eliminated one possible answer that had been raised by Japanese investigators.

It also underscored the complexity of investigating a battery system that includes manufacturers across the world, and may point to a design problem with the battery that could take longer to fix than swapping out a faulty batch of batteries.

"Examination of the flight recorder data from the JAL B-787 airplane indicates that the APU (auxiliary power unit) battery did not exceed its designed voltage of 32 volts," the NTSB said in a statement issued early Sunday.

On Friday, a Japanese safety official had told reporters that excessive electricity may have overheated the battery in the ANA-owned Dreamliner that was forced to make the emergency landing at Japan's Takamatsu airport last week.

"The NTSB wanted to set the record straight," said one source familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly.   Continued...

 
Fire trucks surround a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner that caught fire at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts January 7, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder