Airbus Stresses Difference Between A350 and 787 After Grounding

Airbus SAS said its A350 due for first flight this year differs from the Boeing Co. 787 even if the two wide-body aircraft compete, as the European manufacturer urges regulators to refrain from blanket restrictions.

While both aircraft rely on lithium ion batteries that are at the heart of a probe into the 787, the A350’s electrical architecture differs from Boeing’s jet, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier said today. Regulators are probing electrical faults on two 787s that caused a 787 to make an emergency landing before the global fleet was grounded.

“We are expecting from the FAA that the way each one of us has managed the electrical system is taken into account,” Jean Botti, chief technical officer for Airbus-parent European Aerospace, Defence & Space Co. said in an interview. “We will carefully study recommendations that come out of the 787 investigation and evaluate whether they apply to our products.”

Airbus is entering the final months before the first flight of an aircraft the company is positioning against the 787 and later with a larger variant against Boeing’s popular 777. While Airbus has had its own share of technical setbacks on previous programs, Bregier said Airbus may benefit from Boeing’s woes as airlines may consider the A330 wide-body as an alternative.

Airbus plans to deliver the first A350 to Qatar Airways before 2015. Bregier said in an interview in Davos that certifying any new aircraft is “very difficult” because of “more and more stringent” rules applied by the authorities.

Possible Impact

“If there is any kind of change in how the agencies view lithium-ion batteries, that could easily impact the A350,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of the Teal Group, a Fairfax, Virginia-based forecaster. “If we’re looking at a broader electrical system issue, or a battery installation issue, or even just a bad battery batch, Airbus shouldn’t be affected.”

Development of the A350 has already suffered several delays, leaving Airbus with effectively no margin for additional setbacks. Any onerous design changes or testing requirements could further disrupt plans.

Airbus, which gets its batteries from Saft Group SA, based in Bagnolet, France rather than Boeing’s vendor GS Yuasa Corp. of Tokyo, has designed the A350 to use two batteries in a section where the Dreamliner has one, reducing by half the power demand on each, Tom Williams, Airbus executive vice president for programs said last week.

Monitoring Batteries

It monitors the health of its batteries by tracking their power draw and temperature and has provided a system to quickly vent any gases outside the aircraft to reduce the risk of the fuel cell rupturing, he said.

Investigators for the 787 have held discussions with GS Yuasa, maker of the suspect batteries, Meggitt’s Securaplane Technologies Inc., based in Arizona, Eaton Corp., Thales SA and others as they try to isolate the origin of the malfunction and other glitches. The top two U.S. aviation regulators said yesterday they don’t yet know what led to battery flaws.

The difficulty in extinguishing lithium-ion batteries once they have caught fire is driving a search for alternatives. Three cargo jets have been destroyed in fires since 2006 in which lithium batteries were present as cargo, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

“There are technologies that we are contemplating that take us to the next level in providing power in a much safer way,” Botti said. Some technologies, which include the use of new materials, could mature relatively quickly, he said.