* Japanese regulator agrees with U.S. counterpart on battery
* Eaton Corp cooperating with fuel leak probe
* Hainan Airlines says growth hampered
By James Topham and Andrea Shalal-Esa
TOKYO/WASHINGTON, Jan 23 Japanese regulators
have joined their U.S. counterparts in all but ruling out
overcharged batteries as the cause of recent fires on the Boeing
Co 787 Dreamliner, which has now been grounded for a week
Meanwhile, as deliveries of the cutting-edge passenger jet
back up with no end in sight, a key Chinese customer lamented
the delays and said its growth plans were being hampered by its
inability to get the planes on time.
Solving the battery issue has become the primary focus of
the investigation, but with excess voltage more or less off the
table, investigators are still hunting for a possible cause.
Regulators grounded the Dreamliner on Jan. 16 after a series
of safety incidents, including battery fires on planes in the
United States and Japan. The Japanese incident forced a plane to
make an emergency landing.
Last weekend the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board
said the fire on a Japan Airlines Co Ltd 787 in Boston
was not due to excess voltage, and on Wednesday, Japanese
officials all but ruled it out for the incident on an All Nippon
Airways Co Ltd plane there.
"On the surface, it appears there was no overcharging," said
Norihiro Goto, chairman of the Japan Transport Safety Board, at
a media briefing.
"The fact that such electrical system-related incidents
would occur consecutively, purely from my perspective, could not
have been expected. We are finding it difficult trying to figure
out what kind of investigative stance we should take."
The investigation has also renewed scrutiny on the U.S.
Federal Aviation Administration's 2007 decision to let Boeing
use a highly flammable battery technology on the 787. A key U.S.
Senate committee will hold a hearing in coming weeks to examine
U.S. aviation safety oversight and the FAA's decision, a
congressional aide said on Tuesday.
While the NTSB and JTSB hunt for a solution to the battery
question, there is also an open issue around fuel leaks on the
Dreamliner. In early December, U.S. officials warned of a
manufacturing fault with fuel lines, and earlier this month a
JAL plane in Boston leaked before takeoff.
Industrial manufacturer Eaton Corp said Wednesday it
was cooperating with investigators looking at the fuel leaks.
"Without speaking about either the incident or
investigation, I can tell you that we do supply pumps and valves
to the program," a spokeswoman said.
The 787 program was already years behind schedule before
last week's grounding, which means Boeing cannot deliver newly
manufactured planes to customers. For at least one Chinese
customer, that has meant delays in launching new routes.
"Frankly, it's a little disappointing the aircraft has been
delayed so many times," said Chen Feng, chairman of Hainan
Airlines Co Ltd parent HNA Group, in an interview at
the World Economic Forum in Davos. "We still think it's a good
aircraft, but this has had some effect on our planning."
Hainan has 10 of the planes on order.
The grounding of the Dreamliner, an advanced
carbon-composite plane with a list price of $207 million, has
already forced Japan's ANA to cancel 151 domestic and 26
international flights scheduled for Jan. 23-28, affecting more
than 21,000 passengers, the airline said on Monday.
ANA, which flies the most Dreamliners of any airline, is due
to announce further flight cancellation plans on Thursday.
Boeing has already delivered 50 of the 787s to date. Around
half of those have been in operation in Japan, but airlines in
India, South America, Poland, Qatar and Ethiopia, as well as
United Airlines in the United States, are also flying
Boeing's main competitor, EADS, said on Wednesday
it did not expect the problems with the 787 to affect the
certification of its own rival plane, the Airbus A350.
"We will do what is needed to avoid the same problems," EADS
strategy chief Marwan Lahoud told France's Radio Classic.
Airbus has said it hopes to achieve the maiden flight of the
carbon-composite A350 by the middle of this year.