Most 787 jets grounded worldwide

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo, AP

Aviation regulators on Thursday grounded most of the world’s 787 Dreamliner fleet until a fire risk linked to the plane’s batteries can be fixed, deepening a crisis for its U.S. manufacturer, Boeing Co.

Regulators in Japan, India and Chile followed the lead of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in ordering an indefinite halt to all operations after an All Nippon Airways Dreamliner was forced into an emergency landing on Wednesday.

The FAA, which sets the benchmark for aviation standards, highlighted “a potential battery fire risk in the 787″ after a suspected battery leak emerged as the focus of inquiries into the aborted flight.

Following the FAA decision, vice transport minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said all Dreamliners operating in the country must remain grounded until their batteries are confirmed to be safe. ANA and Japan Airlines had already grounded their entire fleets of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. United Airlines, the only U.S. carrier to fly the Dreamliner, Air India and Chile’s LAN Airlines followed suit. Of the 50 Dreamliners in operation, 39 have now been grounded. Still flying them are Qatar Airways (five), Ethiopian Airlines (four) and LOT Polish Airlines (two).

Japanese aviation experts on Thursday resumed their investigation into the emergency landing of Boeing’s newest jet following the appearance of smoke inside the aircraft. A group of U.S. aviation experts was to be dispatched to Japan on Friday.

The investigation will focus on the aircraft’s main battery in an electrical bay below the cockpit — believed to be the source of the smoke — and nearby areas.

Leaked electrolyte and burn marks were found on the battery’s metal casing, according to ANA, which in November 2011 became the world’s first carrier to introduce the Dreamliner jet for regularly scheduled services.

The government-affiliated Japan Transport Safety Board and other authorities believe the battery overheated, adding that the upper part of the casing was swollen.