Airbus to Seek Certification of A350 With Lithium Battery

Airbus SAS will seek permission to fly its new A350 jet with more advanced lithium batteries only after first using a standard nickel-cadmium model in a bid to secure faster approval, said the program director for the A350.

The two flying A350 test aircraft are still equipped with lithium packs, while the first models to enter into service will feature nickel cadmium. Airbus plans to gain certification of the newer technology about a year into regular commercial operation in 2014, said Didier Evrard, head of the A350 program.

Airbus had designed the A350 to fly with the lighter lithium packs and changed tracks earlier this year after some Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliners experienced battery fires, leading to a three-month grounding of the fleet. While the cadmium model is heavier, it’s tried and tested, allowing for faster approval.

“We didn’t seek initial certification for the A350 with lithium because we didn’t want to take any risk of delay,” Evrard said in Toulouse, France, where Airbus is based. “But we think our lithium power design is sufficiently different” from its rival’s system, he said.

Airbus has said that the electrical design of the A350 and its lithium batteries is more conservative than in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The fifth A350 test plane that is set to fly for the first time in about May, will incorporate nickel-cadmium batteries, according to the company.

On Schedule

The A350 remains on schedule, with plans to hand over the first plane to Qatar Airways Ltd. toward the end of 2014, Evrard said. The aircraft had won 756 orders at the end of September from 38 customers including earlier this month an order from Japan Airlines for 31 A350s.

Airbus expects to be producing one A350 a month by January 2014, increasing to three a month by early 2015 and gradually ramping up to 10 a month by 2018. The planemaker may consider higher rates after that, Evrard said, though no decisions on that have yet been made.

The plane is offered in three versions: the A350-900, seating 300 and the first to get built; the larger A350-1000, with 350 seats, scheduled for entry into service in late 2017, and the 270-seat A350-800.

Stretch Version

While multiple -800 customers have moved to the longer A350-900, Airbus still has outstanding orders for 89 units and will build the plane if customers want it, Evrard said. He gave no indication when production of the -800 versions may begin.

The A350-1000 is now moving from development to industrialization. Final assembly will start in late 2015, with a first flight in the second part of 2016 before entry into service in 2017. Buyers including Emirates, British Airways Plc and Cathay Pacific Ltd.

Evrard said stretching the A350-1000 by adding panels to make the fuselage longer for additional passengers would be perfectly feasible from a technical point of view.

“Stretching further is possible, there are no show-stoppers, but today it’s still in the pre-concept phase” he said.

Boeing is developing a wide-body plane bigger than its current 777-300ER, and one of those variants would seat 400 passengers, more than the A350-1000.

The second A350-900 test aircraft began flights last week after a first plane flew for the first time in June. The two planes combined have already made 75 flights, or more than 370 hours.

The third test aircraft, which hasn’t yet flown, will be the first fitted out with a cabin, including cabin crew rest area, galleys and baggage racks.