Airbus warned of lithium battery risks a year ago: presentation

Mon Jan 28, 2013 3:44pm EST
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By Tim Hepher and Deepa Seetharaman

PARIS/DETROIT (Reuters) - Airbus EAD.PA warned the airline industry of risks related to lithium batteries almost a year before two safety incidents grounded 787 Dreamliners built by its chief rival Boeing (BA.N: Quote), according to a presentation seen by Reuters.

The European planemaker spelled out lithium hazards at a forum of airline customers in March 2012, citing the risk of flames, explosion, smoke and leakage in the event of a so-called thermal runaway or uncontrolled battery overheating.

"The risks associated to lithium batteries require the attention of the entire industry," according to slides of the presentation by Christine Bezard, flight safety leader of the planned Airbus A350 plane that will also use lithium batteries.

U.S. and Japanese authorities are investigating a battery fire and a smoke incident on two separate Dreamliners in recent weeks, with attention focused on their lithium-ion battery power units.

Airbus, which plans to use lithium-ion batteries on its A350 jetliner, declined to comment on the presentation. Both Airbus and Boeing say their designs are safe.

Lithium-ion batteries are widely used in smart phones and hybrid vehicles because they are lighter, smaller and more powerful than traditional nickel or lead-acid batteries. But if managed improperly, lithium-ion batteries can also explode, with some posing a greater fire risk than others based on their chemical makeup.

Last year's Airbus presentation covered consumer products carried in the cabin or stored as baggage, as well as batteries used in emergency devices such as flashlights and beacons or, in a slide showing the A350, system batteries built into aircraft.

It said that the fire extinguishing gas Halon 1301 is effective in controlling open flames and the spread of fire in lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries and that water can stop the propagation of thermal runaway in a cargo shipment.   Continued...

The burnt auxiliary power unit battery removed from a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet is seen in this picture provided by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and obtained by Reuters on January 15, 2013. REUTERS/U.S. National Transportation Safety Board/Handout