Regulators launch probe into Boeing battery manufacture

Posted on 22 Jan 2013

A joint investigation by US and Japanese inspectors into GS Yuasa, the Japanese battery maker for Boeing's grounded 787 Dreamliner aircraft, is underway.

Since a Nippon Airways (ANA) 787 flight was forced to make an emergency landing on January 16, regulators have grounded all Dreamliners in operation.

The emergency landing was attributed to a faulty battery which may have overheated and caught fire.

Japanese and US regulators are probing the cause of the fault with the battery’s supplier.

ANA has announced 335 Dreamliner flight cancellations until next Sunday, which is expected to affect 48,000 passengers.

The BBC reports that on Sunday a US regulator said the battery did not overcharge in a separate incident involving a Japan Airlines (JAL)-operated 787.

Japanese transport ministry safety official Yasuo Ishii said that a probe into the production line of battery maker GS Yuasa began on Monday morning, involving engineers from the US Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and Japanese aviation investigators.

“They are checking on whether there have been any issues in the production process,” says Mr Ishii. “We still don’t know what caused the battery problem, and so we are looking into all possibilities.”

Series of errors

The Dreamliner has had a succession of technical faults.

On January 7, an electrical fire broke out on a JAL 787 at Logan International Airport in Boston. Shares in GS Yuasa fell 11% since that incident although they have since recovered a little as it became apparent the fault may not have been a pure battery problem.

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the battery did not overcharge following this incident.

Dreamliner troubles dating back four months include reports of an oil leak, a fuel leak, engine cracks and a damaged cockpit window. This follows a very difficult development history that included a series of production setbacks and other delays before the plane entered service in 2011. Fifty of the aircraft have been delivered to airlines.

GS Yuasa also produces batteries for motorbikes, industrial equipment and power supply devices.

Boeing faces a very challenging period of production reconfiguration.

Writing for CNN, Murdo Morrison, editor of Flight International magazine, says “With Boeing vowing to throw all its engineering resources at solving the problem over the next few weeks, it will mean other important projects being sidelined.

“And while a production line geared to turning out dozens of airliners a year cannot be simply be switched off, executives will be wondering whether it makes sense to continue producing aircraft that are currently grounded around the world.”