Japan Air grounds Boeing 787 after battery problem

Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:03pm EST
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By Tim Kelly and Alwyn Scott

TOKYO/SEATTLE (Reuters) - Japan Airlines Co Ltd (9201.T: Quote) said it temporarily grounded one of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners at Tokyo's Narita International Airport on Tuesday after white smoke was spotted outside the plane and a battery cell showed clear signs of leaking.

The incident raised fresh concerns about the 787's safety and reliability almost exactly one year after the global Dreamliner fleet was grounded by regulators following the overheating of two such batteries, although Boeing said design changes made as a result had worked as planned.

Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) said it was "aware of the 787 issue that occurred Tuesday afternoon at Narita, which appears to have involved the venting of a single battery cell." Venting is the process of fumes and heat being channeled outside the battery casing and the aircraft when the battery overheats.

"The issue occurred during scheduled maintenance activities with no passengers on board," said Boeing. "The improvements made to the 787 battery system last year appear to have worked as designed."

Boeing shares closed down 0.5 percent at $140.01 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The incident, which was disclosed by Japan Airlines early on Wednesday local time, came nearly a year to the day after Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways grounded their 787 fleets after two 787 batteries overheated on two different planes in less than two weeks.

Global regulators grounded the worldwide fleet on January 16, 2013. The 787s remained grounded for more than three months while Boeing redesigned the battery, charger and containment system to ensure battery fires would not put the airplane at risk. The cause of the battery problems has not been determined.

United Airlines (UAL.N: Quote), the only U.S. carrier that uses the 787, was conducting precautionary checks on its 787s, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.   Continued...

The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner sits on the assembly line at the company's Everett, Washington plant, in this May 19, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Robert Sorbo/Files