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No progress yet on solving the 787 battery mystery

The National Transportation Safety Board said last week it still has no answers about the source of problems in the lithium ion batteries on Boeing 787s that led to the grounding of the planes, but the manufacturer seems determined to move ahead with the construction of more Dreamliners.

In a progress report on its investigation of the 787 batteries, NTSB said that no obvious answers have emerged in the initial weeks of work. So now, “the work has transitioned from macroscopic to microscopic examinations and into chemical and elemental analysis of the areas of internal short circuiting and thermal damage,” the agency said.

NTSB said it will also conduct both mechanical and electrical testing of the 787 battery to uncover “any signs of degradation in expected performance.” Boeing is cooperating in the probe, which also involved a recent inspection of the Japanese company that manufactures the batteries. That inspection yielded no significant results.

The battery problem—which led to two emergency landings of 787s in recent weeks—has left schedulers at the affected airlines busy with putting alternate aircraft onto the routes where Dreamliners were flying. The biggest impact was at the new aircraft’s launch customer, Japan’s All Nippon Airways, which had 17 787s in operation when the crisis hit. The only affected U.S. carrier is united, which has six Dreamliners.

Last week, ANA officials told the Associated Press that they are likely to seek compensation from Boeing for lost revenue from the 787 groundings, although they remained confident that the problem will be solved.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said on a conference call last week that the company is still optimistic that a solution to the battery problem will be found soon, and he added that the manufacturer plans to keep moving new 787s through the production line, increasing the production rate from five a month to 10 by the end of 2013.

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