January 18, 2013
Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier does not see an imminent effect of the Boeing 787 grounding on the Airbus A350 program, which also plans to use lithium-ion batteries like those causing problems for Airbus’s U.S. rival.
Bregier during a Jan. 17 press conference said, “Airbus went through discussions with the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency about the electric architecture of the aircraft and they seemed very happy at the time.”
Airbus will “carefully study” recommendations that come out of the Boeing 787 investigation and evaluate whether they apply to the A350, with Bregier noting that the A350 still is in the development stage, so modifications are still possible.
However, Executive VP-Programs Tom Williams concedes that replacing the lithium-ion batteries would be a “very serious decision” and possibly cause “months in delays” in the A350 program.
The real impact on Airbus is still uncertain. While Airbus has selected a different supplier, Saft, for the batteries, the A350 also is a less electric aircraft than the 787. Systems such as braking and functions such as de-icing are still performed in the conventional way, using hydraulics and bleed air, respectively.
Williams also says Airbus is using more cells than Boeing in functions such as auxiliary power unit startup, where lithium-ion batteries are used. That leads to less power per battery being required. “But that does not mean that we may not be facing the same issues as Boeing,” he adds.
According to Williams, Airbus has design features intended to make the battery operation particularly safe, including mechanical relief vents made of titanium. “The critical issue is to get failure management right,” he says.
Airbus could use nickel-cadmium batteries, but that would require a huge effort, and , says Williams says, would lead to a significant weight and space penalty. Also, nickel-cadmium batteries are prone to the memory effect and cannot be recharged fully after a certain number of cycles.