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Boeing halting 787 deliveries as batteries investigated

U.S. officials center  inspect All NippAirways jet which made an emergency landing Wednesday Takamatsu airport Takamatsu western Japan Friday

U.S. officials, center, inspect a All Nippon Airways jet which made an emergency landing Wednesday, at Takamatsu airport in Takamatsu, western Japan, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. An official with Japan’s transport safety board says four U.S. officials, including two Boeing Co. representatives, have arrived at the airport in western Japan to inspect the troubled Boeing 787 jet. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE

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Updated: February 20, 2013 6:10AM

Boeing said Friday that while it will continue production of its troubled 787 Dreamliner, it is temporarily halting deliveries of the next-generation jets until problems with the batteries are addressed.

And a Pennsylvania congressman asked Argonne National Laboratory to reach out to Boeing and U.S. regulators to assist in solving the battery issues.

Meanwhile, a common cause may be emerging in the battery problems that prompted U.S. regulators and others around the globe to ground the planes this week.

Given the grounding, Boeing’s move halting deliveries was not unexpected. It was unlikely airlines who’ve ordered the jet would accept delivery until the problems are resolved because it would have meant keeping the planes parked.

An All Nippon Airways plane made an emergency landing Wednesday morning in western Japan after its pilots smelled something burning and received a cockpit warning of battery problems, which led to the grounding of the planes.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday required U.S. carriers to stop flying 787s until the batteries are demonstrated to be safe. Other countries, including Japan, also grounded nearly all 50 of the 787s in use around the world.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), co-chair of the House Science and National Labs Caucus, sent a letter to Lemont-based Argonne Director Eric Isaacs Friday asking that Argonne personnel “lend their expertise to Boeing as the company works with the FAA.”

Argonne was named a national center for battery research by the Energy Department last year. In November, it was among a team of research organizations selected to receive up to $120 million from the Energy Department to create a new Batteries and Energy Storage Research hub based at Argonne.

Asked to comment on his request, Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said, “Boeing committed to supporting the FAA and working around the clock to finding answers as quickly as possible. In addition, we are supporting the investigations that will determine the cause of the recent incidents involving 787 batteries.”

Boeing has not contacted Argonne, Isaacs said in a statement, while adding, “an important reason U.S. Department of Energy research facilities like Argonne exist is to collaborate with American companies to resolve complex technical and scientific challenges that will usher in a new age in energy, energy efficiency and energy technologies.”

The 787 is the first Boeing plane to use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for its main electrical system. Such batteries are prone to overheating and have additional safeguards installed that are meant to control the problem and prevent fires.

The burned insides of a lithium ion battery in the All Nippon Airways Boeing 787 at the center of the grounding indicate the battery operated at a voltage above its design limit, a Japanese investigator said Friday, as U.S. officials joined Japan’s probe into the incident.

Photos provided by the Japan Transport Safety Board of the lithium ion battery that was located beneath the cockpit of the ANA 787 show a blackened mass of wires and other components within a distorted blue casing.

Japan transport ministry investigator Hideyo Kosugi said the state of the battery indicated “voltage exceeding the design limit was applied” to it.

He said the similarity of the burned insides of the battery from the ANA flight to the battery in a Japan Airlines 787 that caught fire Jan. 7 while the jet was parked at Boston’s Logan International Airport suggested a common cause.

“It sounds like they are getting closer to figuring out the problem, but I’m not sure what it means about the solution,” Chicago-based Morningstar Inc aerospace and defense analyst Neal Dihora said.

“Why did these two batteries operate above the design? Why not the others? Is it an airline operator issue or battery manufacturer issue or something else?”

Those are among questions that remain to be answered, he said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday the jet will not fly again until authorities are “1,000 percent sure” it is safe, Reuters reported, adding LaHood said he could not predict when the 787 would be authorized to resume flights.

A JTSB inspector said the board hopes to produce a report on the problems, within a week, Reuters also reported.

The 787 is Boeing’s newest jet, and the company is counting heavily on its success. It has received orders for 848 of the planes and delivered 50. United Airlines is the only U.S. carrier flying the model and has six of the jets.

Contributing: AP

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