January 15, 2013 3:19 pm

Japan probes Dreamliner fuel leaks

Japanese regulators on Tuesday confirmed they have launched an investigation into fuel leaks on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by Japan Airlines.

The Japanese transport ministry has begun an inquiry after the same Japan Airlines 787 that suffered a fuel leak in the US on January 8 reported a similar incident in Japan on Sunday while undergoing maintenance.

The transport ministry’s inquiry adds to the wide-ranging review of the 787 announced by US regulators on Friday, following five incidents last week that raised questions about the Dreamliner’s safety and reliability.

“The fact that such problems have occurred day after day is a matter of great concern for the public and therefore the ministry will conduct an investigation on its own rather than wait for a report from [Japan Airlines],” said Akihiro Ota, Japan’s transport minister.

ANA, another Japanese airline, and JAL are currently the largest operators of the 787. ANA has 17 Dreamliners, while JAL has seven.

The most serious incident involving the 787 happened on Monday last week, when a fire broke out on a Dreamliner operated by JAL that had landed at Boston’s Logan airport.

The next day, a different JAL 787, which was also at Logan airport, had to delay its flight to Tokyo for four hours after discovering a fuel leak emanating from the left wing.

JAL said this 787 then suffered a second fuel leak, also in the left wing, on Sunday during maintenance work at Tokyo’s Narita airport.

The airline, which is co-operating with the investigation by Japanese regulators, said the two fuel leaks happened in different parts of the left wing, and that no conclusions had been reached in its own inquiries on the reasons for the incidents.

Neither the fire-damaged 787 nor the Dreamliner that suffered fuel leaks has returned to service.

Fuel leaks on the 787 have already come under regulatory scrutiny. In December, the US Federal Aviation Administration ordered inspections of 787s following a fuel leak on a 787 operated by ANA.

The FAA was concerned that improperly assembled components on the 787 may have caused the fuel leak, and instructed airlines to take remedial action.

The US National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the 787 fire at Boston, is focusing partly on a lithium-ion battery that was severely damaged in the blaze.

The NTSB has removed the battery from the 787 and taken it to a laboratory where it will be dismantled.

Boeing has never previously used lithium-ion batteries on its aircraft, and they have been known to catch fire, notably in electric cars and laptops.

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