Airbus alters jet battery plans

The battery removed from an All Nippon Airways’ Boeing 787 Dreamliner was inspected last month at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Kyoto, Japan.

Japan Transport Safety Board via Reuters

The battery removed from an All Nippon Airways’ Boeing 787 Dreamliner was inspected last month at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Kyoto, Japan.

When it comes to the volatile new lithium-ion battery technology, Boeing and Airbus are heading in different directions.

Faced with the potential of a lengthy investigation into what caused batteries on two Boeing 787 jets to catch fire or emit smoke last month, Airbus said Friday that it had dropped plans to use the technology on its forthcoming wide-body jet, the A350-XWB, to avoid possible delays in producing the planes. But Boeing, which has much more at stake, said later in the day that it would stick with the batteries and that it is working with regulators on how to reduce the risks even if the cause of the hazards is not clearly found.


All 50 of the 787s delivered so far were grounded in mid-January. And even though the problems have embarrassed Boeing and could cost it hundreds of millions of dollars, the company said Friday, ‘‘There’s nothing we’ve learned in the investigations that would lead us to a different decision regarding lithium-ion batteries.’’

To some extent, Boeing’s bravado reflects a sense among battery experts that they have narrowed down the ways that the batteries, made by a Japanese company, GS Yuasa, could fail. That then increases the chances that a handful of changes may eventually provide enough assurance that the batteries would be safe to use.

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Airbus was planning on a more limited use of the lithium-ion batteries than Boeing, and by switching to the more traditional nickel-cadmium batteries, the company can make the necessary changes as it is building the planes. Boeing, on the other hand, has a strong motivation to stick with the lithium-ion batteries in hopes that a solution will emerge. Boeing might not have to go through as extensive an approval process if it redesigned the lithium-ion batteries as it would if it switched to the conventional batteries.

Airbus said it started informing airline customers Thursday that it would not move ahead with its original plan to use the lithium-ion batteries on its A350s.

“Airbus considers this to be the most appropriate way forward in the interest of program execution and reliability,’’ said Marcella Muratore, an Airbus spokeswoman.

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