Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier says the company has been studying alternatives to the lithium-ion batteries it plans to use on board the new Airbus A350, should the need arise. “Nothing prevents us from going back to a classical plan that we have been studying in parallel,” Bregier says.

Like Boeing with its 787, Airbus plans to use lithium-ion batteries for the A350. But Airbus is cooperating with a different supplier, French battery specialist Saft, and the batteries are used for fewer functions than on the 787. Consequently, they are less powerful. Boeing’s 787 batteries are delivered by Thales, with the cells subcontracted to GS Yuasa Corp., a Japanese company.

So far, Bregier sees no need to change the aircraft’s design and technology. But he says it would be possible to adjust the current system’s design while continuing to use lithium-ion batteries. Airbus would also be prepared to switch to an alternative solution without delaying the A350’s planned entry into service, Bregier says. In case of a full replacement, Airbus would “have all the time we need to do this on the A350 before first delivery,” he says.

Airbus already redesigned the current battery system about a year ago because of safety concerns. Airbus declined to elaborate on the change. The company also declined to say what an alternative system would look like if it returned to a more conventional solution.

Separately, the A350 aircraft zero has started its virtual first flight (VFF) campaign. Aircraft zero combines the iron bird – a test bench for electric, hydraulic and flight control systems – with a flight deck integration simulator. Airbus says aircraft zero has equipment that is fully representative of what will be used on the actual A350 first flight. The VFF tests are set to last several months.

Airbus says the A350’s first flight is planned “by the middle of this year.”