Airbus has studied alternatives to lithium-ion batteries for its next jet, the A350, and has time to adapt to any rule changes prompted by the problems that have grounded Boeing Co’s 787 Dreamliner, its top executive said.
Airbus plans to use lithium-ion batteries on the A350, similar to the technology incorporated in Boeing’s 787 airliners, and so far has stood by the modern power packs.
“We studied the integration of these batteries on the A350 very carefully,” Airbus Chief Executive Fabrice Bregier told a group of French aerospace journalists on Thursday. “I am very relaxed about this.”
The first U.S. grounding of a new model of passenger jet in over 30 years has focused attention on the risks that lithium-ion batteries can overheat and ignite a fire that is harder to put out than most flames, because of the solvents involved.
Airbus warned about the risks of lithium-ion batteries at a closed meeting of airlines in March 2011, according to a presentation first reported by Reuters this week.
“We identified this fragility at the start of development and we think we resolved it about a year ago,” Bregier said. “Nothing prevents us from going back to a classical plan that we have been studying in parallel.”
He did not provide details, but some aerospace industry sources caution that a redesign of the batteries could require months of engineering work and tests to obtain certification.
“We have a robust design. If this design has to evolve, we have the time to do that,” Bregier said. “If it has to change in a more drastic way because the authorities reach the conclusion that the technology is not mature, then we have all the time we need to do this on the A350 before first delivery in the second half of 2014.”
The head of the company that makes A350 batteries, France’s Saft, told Reuters earlier on Thursday he did not believe there would be a radical rethink by aviation regulators on the use of lithium-ion as a result of the 787’s problems.
It is the first time Boeing or Airbus has used the technology in designing commercial passenger jets.