Airbus studies dropping lithium-ion battery for A350: sources

Fri Feb 8, 2013 5:17pm EST
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By Tim Hepher and Ben Berkowitz

PARIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Europe's Airbus is considering whether to drop lithium-ion batteries and switch back to traditional ones on its A350 passenger jet as investigators probe Boeing 787 safety incidents, several people familiar with the matter said.

The move comes amid a wider rethink in the aerospace industry on whether the powerful but delicate backup energy systems are technically "mature", or predictable, they said.

Industry executives, insurers and safety officials told Reuters the technology's predictability was being questioned at senior levels as investigators struggle to find the cause of incidents that led to the grounding of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

"There is an increasing doubt over the technology," said a person familiar with industry-wide discussions on the issue. "It may well be the future but for now it is a question of maturity. The information on the two incidents is not reassuring."

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which is examining a fire on a 787 at Boston airport a month ago, said on Thursday it had identified where the fire broke out but not the cause. A similar investigation is under way in Japan.

A spokesman for EADS unit Airbus said it would study the outcome of the U.S. probe: "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. There are no conclusions by the NTSB yet and the investigation is still ongoing." All options are open, he added.

France's Saft, which makes both the new and old batteries for Airbus, did not respond to requests for comment. Last month it insisted lithium-ion was safe.

The A350 would be the second large passenger jet to fly on lithium-ion batteries for backup electrical power after the Dreamliner, which pioneered their use in passenger transport to support an increasing array of electrical systems.   Continued...