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Japan's ANA replaced faulty batteries on Dreamliner last year

By Yoko Wakatsuki and Paul Armstrong, CNN
January 30, 2013 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
An ANA Dreamliner sits on the tarmac after an emergency landing at Takamatsu Airport in western Japan on January 16.
An ANA Dreamliner sits on the tarmac after an emergency landing at Takamatsu Airport in western Japan on January 16.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • ANA: 787's main battery failed to start normally on three occasions last year
  • Batteries have become a focus of the Boeing Dreamliner 787 safety investigation
  • An inspection of the Japan firm that makes the batteries found no serious problems
  • Authorities worldwide continue to ground the aircraft amid safety concerns

(CNN) -- A Japanese carrier has revealed that it replaced faulty batteries on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet last year, as aviation authorities worldwide continue to ground the aircraft amid safety concerns over the devices.

In an interview with the New York Times, All Nippon Airways (ANA) said the aircraft's main battery failed to start normally on three occasions and had to be replaced along with the charger. In other cases, one battery showed an error reading and another, used to start the auxiliary power unit, failed. All the events occurred from May to December of last year, the report said.

Megumi Tezuka, spokeswoman for ANA, told CNN Wednesday that 10 lithium ion batteries on its 787s were replaced in 2012, with a low charge being reported on some of the devices on board the aircraft.

READ: 'No big problems' with battery maker

However, she said the problems were discovered during maintenance and therefore categorized as minor troubles. She added the airline was not required to report the faults to regulators.

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The news comes as an inspection of the Japanese company that makes the batteries found no serious problem with the devices. U.S. and Japanese officials carried out a joint inspection at the facility in the city of Kyoto where GS Yuasa makes the batteries.

While investigators found several issues in quality control at the company, they did not uncover any serious problems that can be linked to recent incidents involving Dreamliners, Yasuo Ishii, director of air worthiness standards at the Japanese transport ministry, said Tuesday.

Two recent incidents -- a fire aboard the Japan Airlines aircraft in Boston's Logan International Airport on January 7, and a smoke alarm aboard a plane flying over Japan on January 16 -- prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ground all Dreamliners in the United States, and other nations across the globe quickly followed suit.

What's wrong with the Dreamliner?

The investigation has now shifted from the battery maker to the manufacturer of the system that monitors the battery's voltage and temperature, Ishii said.

Officials from the FAA and the Japanese transport ministry on Monday began checking the quality control at Kanto Aircraft Instrument Co., in Kanagawa prefecture, according to Ishii. They haven't found any serious problems so far, he said.

Kanto Aircraft Instrument declined to comment on the matter.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said last week it had determined that the lithium ion battery on the Boston aircraft experienced a "thermal runaway" and a "short circuit." But safety investigators have not determined which event occurred first, or whether they were the cause or the effect of the incident.

In a thermal runaway, a battery releases energy in the form of heat, increasing the temperature of the battery and causing further damage. In an electrical short, electricity follows an unintended path.

Boeing, meanwhile, has said its technical experts are working "around the clock" and are focused on "resolving the issue" and returning the 787 to service.

There are currently 50 wide body Dreamliners in service globally, with several hundred on order. ANA was the first carrier to use the 787 and currently has 17 in service -- more than any other airline.

How Boeing can bounce back from Dreamliner problems

CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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