x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

No deliveries of Boeing's Dreamliner during US inquiry

Boeing will not deliver more 787s until the US Federal Aviation Administration confirms that the Dreamliner's lithium-ion batteries, provided by a third-party maker, are safe.

Boeing will not deliver more 787s until the US federal aviation administration (FAA) confirms that the Dreamliner's lithium-ion batteries, provided by a third-party maker, are safe.

"The parts makers just worry about meeting the criteria given to them," said Edwin Merner, the president of Atlantis Investment Research in Tokyo.

"Boeing is the company at fault. They didn't test it properly."

Japan's transport ministry said yesterday it would conduct a second probe of the battery maker GS Yuasa's headquarters in Kyoto and was due to add a British supplier to an investigation into faults that have grounded the entire global Dreamliner fleet.

Officials will return to GS Yuasa's offices after a first inspection was undertaken on Monday with US regulators, the ministry said.

Investigators also were being sent to the United Kingdom to probe a valve actuator maker for the 787, the ministry said, without identifying the target company.

GS Yuasa's batteries are the focal point of the investigation into the causes of a fire on a Japan Airlines plane and an emergency landing by an All Nippon Airways jet.

"We're checking parts and the manufacturing process to ensure that work was carried out appropriately," said Shigeru Takano, a director for air transport in the nation's civil aviation bureau.

"We'll first look at the battery, but we have to check if battery is the only problem or there's an entire electrical system issue," said Hiroharu Nakano, a Yuasa spokesman. "We need to fully investigate the system."

The Japan Air jet that caught fire in Boston on January 7 did not exceed its intended voltage, according to the US national transport safety board. It did not identify a cause of the battery fire.

GS Yuasa's multiyear, multimillion dollar contract, announced in June 2005, to supply batteries to Thales, was an opportunity to offset losses from sales to carmakers. While GS Yuasa announced in 2009 that lithium-ion batteries for vehicles would become a core business for the company, the battery maker since then has not turned the technology into profit.

"They had been hoping to make up for the lack of sales to car makers by selling to Boeing," said Jun Yamaguchi, a Credit Suisse analyst in Tokyo. "Any inability to sell in the aviation market is going to make the lithium-ion battery business even more unprofitable for GS Yuasa."

Meanwhile, Boeing's competitors said they would continue using lithium-ion batteries.

Aviation Week quoted Tom Williams, the Airbus programmes chief, as saying "failure management" was key and that any potentially flammable gases escaping from the batteries used in its A380s would be contained by titanium as they were expelled from the aircraft. The company has not said if it would attempt to suppress a lithium fire or focus on containing a lithium blaze, as Boeing has done.

Mr Williams said switching from lithium back to nickel cadmium would require significant engineering work and would carry space and weight penalties. Airbus was not immediately available to comment.

The Brazilian planemaker Embraer declined to comment when asked if it planned to rethink its use of lithium-ion batteries on its military transport plane and new business jets.

The Embraer programmes use a battery made in the United States, unlike the Japanese one on the 787.

In the year ended March, GS Yuasa's lithium-ion batteries business had an operating loss of ¥3.26 billion (Dh135 million), compared with a ¥1.27bn loss a year earlier, according to the company's annual report.

The company first demonstrated its technology in a prismatic lithium-ion battery in 1993 and won its first order from Boeing in 2005.

"We doubt that lithium-ion battery business profitability will improve significantly" during the fiscal year ending in March next year, analysts at Barclays in Tokyo, wrote in a report

US officials and Boeing are investigating whether defective batteries from the same batch caused failures in 787 Dreamliners that triggered the plane's worldwide grounding last week, according to two people familiar with the incidents who wished to remain anonymous.

If proven true, flaws may be confined to a small number of 787s, rather than indicating a systemic fault with the plane's design or manufacturing, and could speed resumption of flights on the jet.


* with agencies