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Sat, Sep 22, 2007

Airbus Spokesman Comes To Boeing's Defense Against 787 Accusations

European Rival Says Composites Are Safe... And It Would Know

Has anyone checked the temperature in Hell lately? (We speak, of course, of the town in Michigan -- Ed.) European planemaker Airbus came to the defense of its rival, Boeing, against accusations made regarding the safety of the American manufacturer's upcoming 787 Dreamliner.

The Leeham Company reports Clay McConnell, VP for corporate communications at Airbus North America, said this week Boeing is correct in saying a composite-bodied airliner is just as safe as an aluminum-bodied one, when it comes to absorbing crash forces.

As ANN reported, former Boeing engineer Vincent Weldon -- who was fired from the planemaker last year -- asserted this week composite materials aren't as resilient as aluminum in a crash scenario, and Boeing knows it. The composites engineer says the material can splinter into shards small enough for escaping passengers to breath in... and, that composite materials emit toxic smoke when burned.

Weldon made his case to the FAA in an 11-page letter. The engineer also appeared on Dan Rather's HDNet news stream this week, an interview picked up by a multitude of news outlets.

Boeing vehemently denied the accusations. McConnell also told Leeham those charges, essentially, are false... and Boeing has likely taken the appropriate measures to ensure safety. "Nobody has more experience working with composites than Airbus," McConnell said. "We know this stuff well.

"The properties of composite structures vary greatly according to their design purpose," he continued. "Any suggestion that 'composites behave in a certain way' doesn’t give the whole story. The orientation of the carbon fibers in the various layers in a composite structure is design-engineered to give the desired strength across various axes. The carbon fiber structure is going to vary according to the unique purpose for that structure and the certification requirement in each area of the airplane."

Airbus has a vested interest in the dispute. As McConnell said, Airbus has worked with composites for years... starting with the vertical stabilizer assemblies on its inaugural A300 and later A310 widebody airliners. Airbus also announced this week it plans to follow Boeing's lead into utilizing the new technology, and will assemble its upcoming A350 XWB using composite panels and framing.

The planemaker has learned some harsh lessons with the new technology -- including delamination issues, caused by moisture working its way into the composite sandwich structure -- but Airbus, like Boeing, says there are ways to prevent such problems.

McConnell also said if there are problems with the 787 -- or, for that matter, the A350 XWB -- the FAA and EASA will not certify the plane.

"Both US and European airworthiness authorities are charged with assuring all airplanes, regardless of the materials from which they are constructed, are going to meet or exceed regulations for crash- and fire-worthiness," he said. "We expect the certification process for aircraft for composite fuselages will assure that all concerns along those lines are addressed. That's what the certification process is for."

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.airbus.com, www.faa.gov

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