Japan's airlines back Boeing, as battery probes make slow progress

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's leading airlines are firmly behind Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner, saying they have had no second thoughts on orders for several dozen more of the planes - even as they have US$5 billion (S$6 billion) worth of the futuristic aircraft sitting idle pending a complex investigation into unexplained battery problems.

All Nippon Airways Co and Japan Airlines Co Ltd have been the biggest customers to date for the technologically advanced 787 jetliner, which has a list price of US$207 million and is about one third made by Japanese companies - from fuselage and engine parts to batteries and toilets.

US safety officials said on Thursday they were nowhere close to completing their probe into a battery fire on a JAL-operated 787 at Boston airport almost three weeks ago.

And investigators in Japan, looking into a later incident that prompted an ANA 787 to make an emergency landing on a domestic flight, have made little headway in finding out what caused a lithium-ion battery to overheat, triggering alarms in the plane's cockpit.

All 50 Dreamliners in service were grounded on Jan 17.

The painstaking reconstruction effort - which Japanese authorities are running in tandem with US safety officials - and the lack of key performance data, suggests it could be months before the 787 can return to commercial service - a potentially costly setback for both Boeing and the airlines banking on the plane for growth.