Airbus warned of lithium battery risks a year ago: presentation

PARIS/DETROIT Mon Jan 28, 2013 3:44pm EST

The burnt auxiliary power unit battery removed from a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet is seen in this picture provided by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and obtained by Reuters on January 15, 2013. REUTERS/U.S. National Transportation Safety Board/Handout

The burnt auxiliary power unit battery removed from a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet is seen in this picture provided by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and obtained by Reuters on January 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. National Transportation Safety Board/Handout

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PARIS/DETROIT (Reuters) - Airbus EAD.PA warned the airline industry of risks related to lithium batteries almost a year before two safety incidents grounded 787 Dreamliners built by its chief rival Boeing (BA.N), according to a presentation seen by Reuters.

The European planemaker spelled out lithium hazards at a forum of airline customers in March 2012, citing the risk of flames, explosion, smoke and leakage in the event of a so-called thermal runaway or uncontrolled battery overheating.

"The risks associated to lithium batteries require the attention of the entire industry," according to slides of the presentation by Christine Bezard, flight safety leader of the planned Airbus A350 plane that will also use lithium batteries.

U.S. and Japanese authorities are investigating a battery fire and a smoke incident on two separate Dreamliners in recent weeks, with attention focused on their lithium-ion battery power units.

Airbus, which plans to use lithium-ion batteries on its A350 jetliner, declined to comment on the presentation. Both Airbus and Boeing say their designs are safe.

Lithium-ion batteries are widely used in smart phones and hybrid vehicles because they are lighter, smaller and more powerful than traditional nickel or lead-acid batteries. But if managed improperly, lithium-ion batteries can also explode, with some posing a greater fire risk than others based on their chemical makeup.

Last year's Airbus presentation covered consumer products carried in the cabin or stored as baggage, as well as batteries used in emergency devices such as flashlights and beacons or, in a slide showing the A350, system batteries built into aircraft.

It said that the fire extinguishing gas Halon 1301 is effective in controlling open flames and the spread of fire in lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries and that water can stop the propagation of thermal runaway in a cargo shipment.

It did not say whether fire suppression systems would be installed with the main batteries on the A350, but industry sources say the design calls for hazardous fumes to be vented.

The lack of a fire suppression system on the Boeing 787 is one of the issues being examined by the National Transportation Safety Board as it investigates the Boston Logan fire. The battery housing is designed to contain any fire.

The 787 is the first passenger jet to use lithium-ion batteries for back-up and auxiliary power.

Airbus declined to comment on the design of the A350 battery, supplied by French company Saft SAFT.PA. Saft says it will not comment on the A350, referring questions to Airbus.

"Airbus will carefully study recommendations that come out of the 787 investigation and evaluate whether they apply to the A350," Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath said by email.

Besides the NTSB investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration is conducting a design review of the 787.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris and Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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Comments (6)
brotherkenny4 wrote:
How many talkinghead CEOs and useless government bureaucrats does it take to figure out someone screwed up. It’s not even a big problem. There are numerous other specific lithium ion chemistries that would have been superior to the one they chose to employ.

Once upon a time there were CEO who probably were astounded that they made so much money and everyone else did the work, now however, the CEOs think they are skilled and important. In that sense, they are insane. Insane because they do and know nothing. They don’t have any connection to reality and they can make no judgement based on information because they no specific skill other than to belong to an ideological group who believes that poor people must be abused.

Jan 28, 2013 3:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Neurochuck wrote:
These safety problems are a big reason for CEOs and wannabee CEOs to have private jets.
They are too vital to the corporation to risk on commercial airlines, so the shareholders must pay.

Jan 28, 2013 4:46pm EST  --  Report as abuse
WJL wrote:
This is most worrying. Put a known battery fire risk on a plastic plane and do not have any fire suppression system??

The battery housing is only thick sheet metal and will not contain an explosion and subsequent fire.

It appears that Boeing is guilty of reckless behaviour.

Jan 28, 2013 4:49pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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