Japan’s transport ministry is conducting a second probe of GS Yuasa Corp.’s headquarters in Kyoto and sent a team to a U.K. supplier to investigate faults that have grounded Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner fleet.
Officials returned to offices in Kyoto today after a first inspection was undertaken yesterday with U.S. regulators, Akihiro Ohta, Japan’s transport minister, told reporters in Tokyo. Investigators were also sent to the U.K. to probe a valve actuator maker for the 787, he said, without identifying the company.
GS Yuasa’s batteries are the focal point of the investigation into the causes of a fire on a Japan Airlines Co. plane and an emergency landing by an All Nippon Airways Co. jet. Chicago-based Boeing can’t deliver more 787 jets until the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration confirms the safety of the Dreamliner.
“I can’t think of any example where the equipment provider gets sued in a case like this,” said Edward Stacey, a London-based analyst at Espirito Santo Investment Bank. Regulators, airlines, and aircraft makers have responsibility for safety, giving suppliers protection unless their product doesn’t meet requirements, he said in a phone interview.
Battery tests start today in a center run by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Ohta told reporters. An NTSB group of four officials and two Japan transport officials will do the inspection at the agency, Masahiro Kudo, an investigator in the ministry’s Japan Transport Safety Board said.
The battery will be taken to Kyoto for further analysis after checks including a computed tomography scan at the agency, Kudo said.
Yesterday’s search at GS Yuasa started at 11 a.m., and the ministry sent one official, while the FAA sent two people to Kyoto, Shigeru Takano, a director for air transportation in the ministry’s Civil Aviation Bureau, told reporters in Tokyo yesterday.
The company is fully cooperating with the authorities, Tsutomu Nishijima, a spokesman for the lithium-ion battery supplier, said by phone yesterday.
GS Yuasa, the world’s biggest motorcycle-battery maker, fell 1.9 percent to 312 yen in Tokyo today, after two consecutive days of gains.
Shares of Christchurch, England-based Meggitt Plc, parent of Securaplane Technologies Inc., rose less than 1 percent to 430 pence at 2:59 p.m. in London. Securaplane’s Tucson, Arizona-based unit provides elements of the 787’s lithium-ion battery system.
In another part of the investigation, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board will be visiting an Arizona firm Tuesday to probe the battery charger on the jet that caught fire in Boston.
Securaplane made the battery charger on the jet that was involved in the Jan. 7 fire in Boston. The NTSB, which investigates accidents and has no regulatory authority, will be working with the firm for help in testing the battery charger, Kelly Nantel, an NTSB spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
The NTSB also hopes to capture data that may help the investigation from a memory module connected to the battery system, according to an e-mailed release from the agency.
Other components involved in the Boston jet fire have been sent to Boeing and to unidentified manufacturers in Japan for analysis, according to an NTSB release.
The Japan Air plane that caught fire in Boston on Jan. 7 didn’t exceed its intended voltage, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. Information released Jan. 20 in an e-mailed statement by the agency suggests the fire that precipitated a grounding of Boeing’s newest jet wasn’t caused by overcharging. The NTSB statement didn’t identify a cause of the battery fire.
GS Yuasa’s multiyear, multimillion dollar contract to supply batteries to Thales SA, announced in June 2005, was an opportunity to offset losses from sales to carmakers. While Kyoto-based GS Yuasa said in 2009 that lithium-ion batteries for vehicles will become a core business for the company, the battery maker since then hasn’t made a profit on the technology.
“They had been hoping to make up for the lack of sales to carmakers by selling to Boeing,” said Jun Yamaguchi, an analyst at Credit Suisse AG in Tokyo. “Any inability to sell in the aviation market is going to make the lithium-ion battery business even more unprofitable for GS Yuasa.”
In the year ended March 2012, GS Yuasa’s lithium-ion batteries business had an operating loss of 3.26 billion yen ($36 million), compared with a 1.27 billion-yen loss a year earlier, according to the company’s annual report. The company spent 30 billion yen, or 75 percent of its total capital investments, on the segment last year, according to its website.
GS Yuasa expects net income to drop 32 percent to 8 billion yen in the year ending in March. The company gets about 42 percent of sales from outside Japan, selling lead-acid batteries for forklifts and other machines in countries such as China and Thailand.
The company first demonstrated its technology in a prismatic lithium-ion battery in 1993 and won its first order from Boeing in 2005.
U.S. officials and Boeing are investigating whether defective batteries from the same batch caused failures in two 787 Dreamliners that triggered the plane’s worldwide grounding last week, according to two people familiar with the incidents.
Electrolyte was found to have leaked from the battery box of the ANA plane that had an emergency landing on Jan. 16, according to Japan’s transport ministry. The interiors of the battery box were found to be damaged.
All Nippon owns 17 Dreamliners, while Japan Air has seven. Boeing won 848 orders for the model, including the 49 aircraft already in use.
The 787 is Boeing’s most technologically advanced plane, featuring a body made of composite materials instead of the traditional aluminum. It conserves fuel by using five times more electricity to power its systems than other planes, and is Boeing’s first model to rely on lithium-ion batteries.
All four plants where GS Yuasa builds lithium-ion batteries are in Japan. The batteries supplied to the Dreamliners are made at a factory in its Kyoto headquarters. The batteries are part of an electrical power conversion system built by France’s Thales SA. United Technologies Corp.’s Aerospace Systems unit supplies the overall system, which uses 1.45 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 400 homes.
Boeing chose lithium-ion batteries for the 787 because they hold more energy and can be quickly recharged. Boeing got regulators’ permission to use lithium batteries in the jetliner in 2007, three years after U.S. passenger planes were barred from carrying non-rechargeable types as cargo because of their flammability.