The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Airbus' upcoming A350, the company's competitor to Boeing's high-tech 787 Dreamliner, will drop all use of lithium-ion batteries. The Dreamliner has run into serious problems since going into service around the world last year, and all planes are currently grounded pending an FAA investigation into battery fires. Airbus is reportedly concerned that scrutiny of the Dreamliner's batteries could delay initial A350 shipments; the aircraft is expected to go into service in summer 2014.
An issue of scheduling, not safety
According to the Journal's sources, Airbus will conduct A350 test flights using lithium-ion batteries, but will switch to traditional nickel-cadmium technology for production aircraft. Airbus seems to believe in the safety of the technology itself, and is primarily concerned with what the Dreamliner controversy could mean for its own rollout. Reuters reported last week that Airbus was considering switching to nickel batteries for the A350, which would mean an increase in weight equivalent to around one adult male passenger out of up to 350.
The 787's use of lithium-ion batteries to power its electrical systems is extensive and unprecedented, but the technology involved has come under sharp scrutiny following the aircraft's aborted launch. Tesla CEO Elon Musk called the battery architecture "inherently unsafe" due to its technique of packing large cells together. However, Boeing may not find it so easy to switch battery technology: there are dozens of aircraft already out there, and the lithium-ion cells replace many hydraulic systems in the plane. The A350, on the other hand, is said to be more power-efficient due to its lesser reliance on batteries.