Airbus drops lithium-ion batteries for A350

Airbus A350

Airbus has dropped lithium-ion batteries of the type that forced the grounding of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and will use traditional nickel-cadmium batteries in its crucially important next passenger jet, the A350.

The European planemaker said on Friday it had taken the decision to adopt the batteries used on existing models in order to prevent delays in the A350's entry to service next year, amid uncertainty over the potential fallout of Boeing's problems.

The move came a week after Reuters reported that Airbus was considering such a move to limit the risks surrounding the development of its own $15 billion airliner.

"We want to mature the lithium-ion technology but we are making this decision today to protect the A350's entry-into-service schedule," an Airbus spokeswoman said.

Both groups insist the new battery technology is safe and Airbus took pains to avoid presenting its decision as a swipe against its U.S. rival as they boast a common stand on safety.

But industry executives, insurance companies and safety officials have said questions are piling up over the "maturity" or predictability of lithium-ion technology, as U.S. and Japanese investigators struggle to find the cause of incidents that led to the Boeing's grounding crisis.

These included a fire on board a parked 787 in Boston and an in-flight problem on another plane in Japan.

The A350 is due to enter service in the second half of 2014 compared with an initial target of 2012 when it was launched as Europe's answer to the lightweight 787 Dreamliner.

The industry's fear is that the failure to identify the "root cause" of the burning battery incidents leaves too much uncertainty over whether regulators will certify planes, when they include the powerful but temperamental power packs.

Those anxieties went up another notch this week when the U.N. aviation agency banned the carriage of lithium-ion batteries as cargo in passenger jets.

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