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February 01, 2013

Airbus Claims to Have a Plan B for Problems Affecting Batteries of New 787 Jets

By Frank Griffin, TMCnet Contributing Writer

The fanfare used to introduce the 787 Dreamliner from Boeing (News - Alert) has died down to a whisper since all of the planes were grounded. The issue related to the batteries is still being investigated by the NTSB, as well as other transportation safety organizations belonging to other countries.

The problem not only affects Boeing, but also Airbus, which uses a technology similar to the one incorporated on the Dreamliner.

Older jets relied on nickel-cadmium batteries for the electronics of the aircraft, and because there were more hydraulics to controls some of the systems such as the brakes it didn’t need a bigger load of electricity. Jets like the 787 have opted with electrical systems instead of hydraulics to control several systems on the plane, which requires more power back-up.

Lithium-ion batteries were chosen because they are much lighter than nickel-cadmium, take up less space and provide more options for modern electronics.

The implementation of the lithium-ion batteries at the time didn’t seem to take into consideration the type of fires created by the solvent in the battery. When lithium-ion batteries catch on fire, the flames it creates are harder to put out, which can be very problematic on an aircraft.

All Nippon Airways (ANA) reportedly replaced the battery on its 787s 10 times before all of the world’s Dreamliners were grounded.

When the chief executive of Airbus Fabrice Bregier said he was going to go with the lithium-ion batteries for the A350, it was not a shocking announcement. While the batteries and some of the technology may be the same, Airbus doesn’t use the same amount of electronics as the 787. The company was also well aware of the possible complications associated with this type of battery as far back as March 2011, and they have adjusted accordingly.

The details of the Plan B have not been disclosed to the public. The reason for this could because changes made to an aircraft can take a substantial amount of time. The fierce competition between Airbus and Boeing depend on timely deliveries of their aircraft – although they almost never come on time.

Additional reengineering and certification can delay the delivery of the A350 by as much as several months.

This unfortunate incident taking place with the Dreamliner is a great opportunity for Airbus. Businesses are often times catapulted to greatness by the unfortunate missteps of a competitor, and with the right stride, Airbus can make its product appear to be the better choice for Airliners around the world who are intently watching what is taking place. 

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Edited by Braden Becker
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