Airbus will follow Boeing’s lead and power its new A350 widebody jets with lithium ion batteries, but the company does not want to put the batteries in a steel box like Boeing did.
Airbus says its batteries are smaller and safer than Boeing's original Dreamliner design, which was plagued by problems when it was first launched. Airbus now wants to switch from a heavier nickel cadmium battery it has been using to the lighter lithium ion ones.
Flight Global this week reported Airbus is nearing regulatory approval for its lithium ion batteries, but the company is still arguing its design is safer than Boeing’s and that Airbus therefore won’t need to put the batteries inside heavy steel boxes.
“If you start to put a huge coffin around the battery system in place then you lose all the benefit of the lithium ion battery,” Airbus Executive Vice-President of Engineering Charles Champion, told Flight Global.
The entire fleet of 50 active Boeing 787s was grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration Jan. 16, 2013, after a battery aboard an All Nippon Airways Dreamliner overheated and charred, forcing an emergency landing in Japan. That was preceded by a Jan. 7, 2013 battery fire on a Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at Boston’s Logan airport.
Boeing (NYSE: BA) began adding steel boxes around the batteries as a condition for continuing to use lithium ion batteries in the Dreamliners.
While Boeing’s fix made some changes to the inner structure of twin eight-cell lithium ion batteries, the biggest change was to house each in a stainless steel box, vented to the outside of the jet, that would contain any future overheating incident.
After that, Airbus punted its own lithium ion battery plans by temporarily using heavier and more traditional nickel cadmium batteries on the competing A350. Airbus decided to switch to the nickel cadmium around the time Boeing was struggling with its Dreamliner batteries.
Now, though, Airbus is about to make the switch as it pits the A350 against the Dreamliner, and airlines push manufacturers to develop the most fuel-efficient planes possible. Airbus delivered the first A350 in December.