Japan's airlines back Boeing, as battery probes make slow progress

Fri Jan 25, 2013 7:10am EST
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By Tim Kelly and James Topham

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's leading airlines are firmly behind Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner, saying they have had no second thoughts on orders for several dozen more of the planes - even as they have $5 billion worth of the futuristic aircraft sitting idle pending a complex investigation into unexplained battery problems.

All Nippon Airways Co and Japan Airlines Co Ltd have been the biggest customers to date for the technologically advanced 787 jetliner, which has a list price of $207 million and is about one third made by Japanese companies - from fuselage and engine parts to batteries and toilets.

U.S. safety officials said on Thursday they were nowhere close to completing their probe into a battery fire on a JAL-operated 787 at Boston airport almost three weeks ago. [ID:nL1N0AT9JR] And investigators in Japan, looking into a later incident that prompted an ANA 787 to make an emergency landing on a domestic flight, have made little headway in finding out what caused a lithium-ion battery to overheat, triggering alarms in the plane's cockpit.

All 50 Dreamliners in service were grounded on January 17.

The painstaking reconstruction effort - which Japanese authorities are running in tandem with U.S. safety officials - and the lack of key performance data, suggests it could be months before the 787 can return to commercial service - a potentially costly setback for both Boeing and the airlines banking on the plane for growth.


U.S., Japanese and Boeing representatives have spent time this week at the Kyoto headquarters of GS Yuasa Corp, which makes batteries for the Dreamliner, looking at everything from manufacturing quality to technical standards. The charred battery remains the focus of the probe.

Critical circuit boards that control and monitor the performance of the battery unit were so badly burnt in the Japan incident that they may yield little data to help investigators, said a person involved in the probe, who didn't want to be named as it is ongoing and findings are only preliminary.   Continued...

An All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 787 Dreamliner is seen after making an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport in western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo, January 16, 2013. The plane made the landing in Takamatsu after smoke appeared in the plane's cockpit, but all 137 passengers and crew members were evacuated safely, Osaka Airport said. REUTERS/Kyodo