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Thermal damage found in Boeing 787 battery

FILE - In this Thursday Jan. 17 2013 phoprovided by Japan Transport Safety Board shows distorted malithium-ibattery left an undamaged

FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 photo provided by the Japan Transport Safety Board shows the distorted main lithium-ion battery, left, and an undamaged auxiliary battery of the All Nippon Airways' Boeing 787 which made an emergency landing on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 at Takamatsu airport in Takamatsu, western Japan. Japan's transport safety agency says a lithium ion battery on a Boeing 787 that overheated during an All Nippon Airways flight earlier this month, prompting an emergency landing, was not overcharged. (AP Photo/Japan Transport Safety Board) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES

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Updated: February 25, 2013 12:38PM



Thermal damage was found in all eight cells of a lithium ion batttery in a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 that caught fire earlier this month while parked and empty of passengers in Boston, federal officials said Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said six of eight cells have been CT scanned and dissassembled and that all electrode windings in the battery are in the process of undergoing microscopic examination. In the coming days, the remaining cells will undergo the same examination, the NTSB said.

Federal officials plan to provide additional details in an update Thursday in their investigation of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner at a news conference scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Chicago time.

Overheating and fires aboard the Dreamliner have led to the planes being grounded worldwide. The problems have weighed on the reputation and the stock of Chicago-based Boeing Co., the Dreamliner’s manufacturer.

In other developments Wednesday:

-- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stood by his Jan. 11 assertion that the 787, Boeing’s newest and most technologically advanced airliner, was safe. At that time, LaHood and the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Michael Huerta, declared the plane fit to fly despite a battery fire in one plane.

--Japan’s transport safety agency said a lithium ion battery that overheated on an All Nippon Airways flight earlier this month experienced a sudden drop in voltage and was not overcharged. The head of the Japan Transport Safety Board said the 787’s jet data recorder showed the battery, used to power many electrical systems on the jet, did not exceed its maximum voltage. That contradicts an earlier assertion by the agency that focused suspicion on the battery.

--Boeing said it continues to assist governments in the U.S. and Japan in the Dreamliner probes. It said it has formed “teams consisting of hundreds of engineering and technical experts” to help.

There has been no indication of when the technologically advanced jets will be allowed back in the air.

Five days after LaHood’s verbal support for the Dreamliner, another battery mishap led to an emergency landing of a 787 in Japan. LaHood and Huerta ordered United, the lone U.S. carrier with 787s, to ground the planes. Authorities in Europe and elsewhere — including Chile, Poland, Ethiopia, Qatar and India — swiftly followed suit. Two Japanese airlines voluntarily grounded their planes before the FAA’s order.

Overall, 50 Dreamliners have been grounded worldwide. FAA’s order applies only to United’s the six 787s.

“On the day we announced the planes were safe they were,” LaHood told reporters at an aviation industry luncheon. He became testy when a reporter pressed him on whether his initial pronouncements had been too hasty.

“I’m not doing these hypothetical look-backs,” he said. “We did what we did.”

What changed between Jan. 11 and FAA’s issuance of a grounding order on Jan. 16 was that a second battery failure occurred on the All Nippon 787 while the airliner was in flight, said Huerta, who joined LaHood at the luncheon. In the first incident, the battery fire occurred in a Japan Airlines 787 that had already landed at Boston’s Logan International Airport and was empty of passengers.

“We took the action we took (to ground the planes) because we saw a hazard,” Huerta said.

The NTSB is also investigating the battery fire in Boston and has sent a representative to Japan to assist authorities there with their investigation of the second. The board has not so far said the battery problem would endanger the safety of the plane in flight nor recommended that the planes be grounded.

The board’s technical experts are in possession of the battery that caught fire and are effectively performing an autopsy on its charred insides in a search for clues to what caused the conflagration. It took firefighters about 40 minutes to put out the fire.

The NTSB is the nation’s independent accident investigation board, while FAA regulates aviation safety.

The FAA is working as quickly as possible to find the cause of the problems, assembling a team of technical experts that includes experts from industry as well as the agency’s staff, Huerta said. The review includes not just the 787’s ground-breaking lithium-ion battery system, but how that system works with the aircraft’s electronic systems, their certification, manufacture and assembly, he said.

Huerta declined to say when FAA might lift the grounding order.

“We don’t know yet what caused these incidents yet. When we know the cause we will take appropriate action,” he said.

The officials emphasized that the investigation would be completely transparent so that the public will have confidence in the outcome.

LaHood denied that Boeing had asked the government to lift the grounding order.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “Boeing is cooperating 100 percent with the review.”

The groundings have been a nightmare for Boeing, which competes with Airbus for the position as the world’s largest commercial aircraft maker. At the time of the groundings, Boeing had orders for more than 800 of the planes from airlines around the world attracted by the 787’s increased fuel efficiency. The aircraft maker has said it has stopped delivering new planes to customers, although it is continuing to manufacture them.

The 787 is the world’s first airliner whose structure is made mostly from lightweight composite materials. It also uses electronic systems for most of its functions instead of hydraulic or mechanical systems. And it is the first airliner to make extensive use of lithium ion batteries, which are lighter, can hold more energy and are easier to fit into odd-sized spaces in airplanes than other types of batteries.

The FAA certified the 787 battery system even though lithium ion batteries are more susceptible to catching fire when they overheat or short-circuit than other types of batteries. Boeing built several safeguards into the design of the battery system.

All 50 of the 787 Dreamliners that Boeing has delivered to airlines were grounded after the emergency landing by the ANA flight in western Japan on Jan. 16. Boeing has halted deliveries of new planes until it can address the electrical problems.

Japan Transport Safety Board chairman Norihiro Goto said the maximum voltage recorded for the battery was 31 volts, which was below its 32 volt limit. But the data also showed a sudden, unexplained drop in the battery’s voltage, he said.

Aircraft do not usually use the kind of lithium ion battery chosen for the 787, and investigators are still struggling to figure out what may have gone wrong.

“It’s not that it is difficult, but that we are not so familiar with it,” Goto said.

The Transport Safety Board said it also will study the aircraft’s auxiliary battery and compare data from each.

Investigators from both sides are probing GS Yuasa, the maker of the charred battery, and are examining the battery using CAT scans at a facility of Japan’s aerospace agency.

U.S. investigators also said that they found no evidence of overcharging in a battery that ignited on a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 as it sat on the tarmac in Boston’s airport earlier this month.



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