However, as Boeing comes to grips with the harsh reality of the likely time it will take to recertify a revised battery system, it also faces a range of new questions. Beyond the uncertainty about how long the fix itself will take to develop, looming issues include the logistics of implementing the fix. Among the 50 grounded aircraft belonging to eight operators which, for example, will be modified first? Likewise, how will modifications be implemented on the growing fleet of undelivered 787s that continue to stack up at Everett, Wash., where new 787s are rolling off the line at the rate of five per month?
Questions also remain over which of these takes priority and what follow-on disruption the modification program may cause to the already slowing process of change incorporation at the Everett Modification Center (EMC). The 100th 787 is on the assembly line, 50 have been delivered and the balance is made up of the original six development aircraft, 25 earlier production aircraft undergoing or awaiting modification in the EMC and more recently built aircraft awaiting delivery.
Watching events from across the Atlantic, Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier says the company has been studying alternatives to the lithium-ion batteries it plans to use on the A350. According to Bregier, “nothing prevents us from going back to a classical plan that we have been studying in parallel.” Airbus has a different supplier, French battery specialist Saft, and the batteries are used for fewer functions than on the 787, thus they are less powerful. So far, Bregier sees no need to change the design and technology, though he says it would be possible to adjust the design of the current system while continuing to use lithium-ion-batteries. He expects no delay to the A350's planned entry into service. In case of a full battery replacement, Airbus would “have all the time we need to do this on the A350 before first delivery,” he says.
Bregier also reveals that Airbus redesigned the current battery system about a year ago because of safety concerns. The company declines to elaborate on exactly what change was made and what the alternative system would look like if it were to return to a more conventional solution.