A battery beneath the cockpit of the Boeing 787 forced to make an emergency landing in Japan was swollen from overheating, a safety official said, as India joined the US and Japan in grounding the aircraft because of fire risk.
US officials and a Boeing engineer are due in Japan on Friday to assist with Tokyo's investigation into the All Nippon Airways 787 that landed in western Japan after a cockpit message showed battery problems and a burning smell was detected in the cockpit and cabin.
The main battery in an electrical room beneath the cockpit was swollen and had leaked electrolyte, safety inspector Hideyo Kosugi said on Japanese broadcaster NHK. Investigators found burn marks around the battery, though it was not thought to have caught fire.
The 787, known as the Dreamliner, is Boeing's newest jet, and the company is counting heavily on its success. Since its launch after delays of more than three years, the plane has been plagued by a series of problems including a battery fire and fuel leaks.
GS Yuasa, the maker of the lithium ion batteries used in the 787, said it was helping with the investigation but that the cause of the problem was unclear. "We still don't know if the problem is with the battery, the power source or the electronics system," said Yasushi Yamamoto, a spokesman for the company which is based in Kyoto, Japan. Thales, which makes the battery charging system, has not commented so far.
Air India's decision today to ground its fleet of six Boeing 787s, under orders from its aviation authorities, means that 36 of the 50 jets in use around the world are out of action. Japan's ANA, which has 17 787s and Japan Airlines, which has seven, voluntarily halted flights on Wednesday after the emergency landing but aviation authorities have made the grounding an official directive. Yasuo Ishii, an official with the aviation safety division of Japan's transport ministry, said Japan Airlines and ANA had been directed not to fly their 787s until questions over safety of the aircraft are resolved.
In Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required US carriers to stop flying 787s until the batteries are demonstrated to be safe. United Airlines has six of the jets and is the only US carrier flying the model. Europe's air safety authority on Thursday followed the US in ordering the grounding and safety review of the Dreamliner. The European Aviation Safety Agency said it is endorsing the directive by the FAA grounding Boeing's jetliner until the risk of fires is resolved. The EASA order is for all European carriers flying the 787, which at the moment only applies to Polish airline LOT.
Boeing said it was working round the clock with investigators. "We are confident the 787 is safe, and we stand behind its overall integrity," Jim McNerney, company chairman, president and chief executive said in a statement.
Japan's transport ministry described Wednesday's problem as a "serious incident" that could have led to an accident. It is unclear how long the Dreamliners will be grounded. ANA and JAL cancelled some flights or switched aircraft. Other airlines with 787s in their fleets include Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, LAN Airlines and LOT Polish Airlines.
Japan's transport ministry had already started a separate inspection on Monday of a 787 operated by Japan Airlines that leaked fuel in Tokyo and Boston, where the flight originated. A fire ignited on January 7 in the battery pack of an auxiliary power unit of an empty Japan Airlines 787 on the tarmac in Boston. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the blaze. A computer problem, a minor fuel leak and a cracked windscreen in a cockpit were also reported on a 787 in Japan this month.