Airbus says concerns it has raised about the use of composites in the Boeing 787’s primary structure are based on “operational” issues rather than safety.

Boeing recently accused the European manufacturer of breaking the taboo of bringing safety into discussions about the merits of the two rivals’ products with the “misinformation” that the 787’s carbonfibre fuselage could suffer from “accelerated damage” (Flight International, 3-9 January).

Responding to the claims in a letter to Flight International, Airbus senior expert composites Roland Thevenin says that the airframer has “never put the issue of using composite materials in the domain of safety”.

Thevenin says that the manufacturer’s experience with composites shows that “so far, there is a maintenance, reliability and economic issue with the use of current composites in airframe parts such as the fuselage, for example, for which other materials are at this stage more appropriate. This is not a safety issue, but a purely operational issue.”

Airbus has adopted carbonfibre for around 40% of structure on the A350, but is employing aluminum lithium for the fuselage. It says the selection driver for the A350’s fuselage structure was “accidental damage” – where aluminum lithium provides “easy damage assessment” and “application of standard procedures for repair”. However, last year A350 chief engineer Dougie Hunter acknowledged that the rejection of carbonfibre was partly driven by the wish to use the existing A330/A340 production infrastructure and jigs.


Source: Flight International