Boeing said on Friday it would continue building the carbon-composite 787, but put deliveries on hold until the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approves and implements a plan to ensure the safety of potentially flammable lithium-ion batteries.
In Washington, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the 787, which has a list price of $207 million, would not fly until regulators were “1,000 percent sure” it was safe.
Japan is the biggest market so far for the 787, with ANA and JAL operating 24 of the 290-seat wide-bodied planes. Boeing has orders for almost 850 of the planes, which have the most complex electrical systems of any planes on the market.
It remains unclear if the investigations will cause other airlines -- and military aircraft builders -- to rethink their plans to use lithium-ion batteries, which are lighter and more powerful than conventional batteries.
Airbus plans to use similar batteries on its rival to the 787, the A350, which is due to make its maiden test flight in the middle of this year.
European executives said last week they would study the findings of the U.S. investigation but said their decision to move more slowly than Boeing towards electric systems, and spread the load over twice as many batteries, would reduce the risk.
Aviation Week quoted Airbus programs chief Tom Williams as saying “failure management” was key and that any escaping gases from the A350 batteries would be protected by titanium as they are expelled from the aircraft. The company has not said if it would attempt to suppress a lithium fire or focus on containing a lithium blaze, as Boeing has done.
Williams told Aviation Week that switching from lithium back to nickel cadmium would require significant engineering work with both space and weight penalties. Airbus was not immediately available to comment on the article.
Brazilian planemaker Embraer SA declined comment when asked if it planned to rethink its use of lithium-ion batteries on its military transport plane and new business jets.
The Embraer programs use a battery made in the United States, unlike the Japanese one on the 787.