Leahy questions 787’s heavy reliance on electrical power

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Airbus chief salesman John Leahy believes that Boeing was wrong to design the 787 with what he views as an over-reliance on electric power for its systems, as it results in reliability headaches rather than performance gains.

Speaking to Flightglobal Pro sister publication Airline Business about the Dreamliner's lithium-ion battery issue, Leahy said that while he had "no doubt" that Boeing will make the 787 safe, "game-changing technology should not be on airplanes just to be different".

He points the finger at Alan Mulally, who was running Boeing Commercial Airplanes at the time of the 787 launch but left the company during the development phase to head up Ford.

"I think Alan Mulally wanted to be gamechanging. So 'job one', as he would say at Ford, was 'everything on this airplane is going to be game-changing'," says Leahy.

But incorporating gamechanging technology is not always for the better, he says: "We do not believe the 787's electric pressurisation brings anything except maintenance and reliability problems.

"We don't think having an airplane flying at 41,000ft, in minus 60 degree outside temperature, should be heated electronically. We've got sources of power called the engines that aren't using all their power, and you can use some of that to pressurise and heat the cabin, to deice the airplane."

When Airbus redesigned the A350 seven years ago to create the all-new XWB, Leahy admits that he pushed the engineers to follow Boeing's lead on all-electric architecture. But he is pleased he was overruled.

Airbus engineers went "back and forth" three times about whether to equip the XWB with electric brakes before deciding to stick with conventional hydraulic architecture.

"I'm guilty as the commercial guy for pounding the table saying 'look [the 787's] all-electric - it's game-changing'," Leahy admits. But trade-off studies by Airbus engineers could not justify adopting the technology.

Leahy says: "They told me: 'You're not going to like the reliability - it's going to be complex, heavy, and hard to maintain'."