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Boeing cites risks in design of newest Airbus jet

Tue 2nd March, 2021 10:59pm
By Tim Hepher
    PARIS, March 2 (Reuters) - Boeing Co  BA.N  has raised
concerns over the design of arch-rival Airbus'  AIR.PA  newest
narrow-body jet, the A321XLR, saying a novel type of fuel tank
could pose fire risks.
    The U.S. plane giant's intervention is not without precedent
in a global system that regularly allows manufacturers to chime
in whenever safety rules are being interpreted in a way that
might affect the rest of the industry.
    But it comes at a pivotal moment as Boeing emerges from a
two-year safety crisis over its competing 737 MAX, and Airbus
faces its own crucial test of the tougher mood expected from
regulators worldwide following the MAX's 20-month grounding.
    In a submission to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency
(EASA), Boeing said the architecture of a fuel tank intended to
increase the A321XLR's range "presents many potential hazards."
    The debate surrounds the hot-selling A321XLR's main
marketing point - the longest range of any single-aisle jet.
    In most jets, fuel is carried in wings and central tanks.
    To meet demand for longer routes, Airbus has already added
optional extra fuel tanks inside the cargo bay of some A321s.
    For the A321XLR, Airbus plans to eke out more space for fuel
by moulding one tank directly into the fuselage, meaning its
shape would follow the contours of the jet and carry more fuel.
    The concept caught the attention of EASA which in January
said it would impose special conditions to keep passengers safe.
    "An integral fuselage fuel tank exposed to an external fire,
if not adequately protected, may not provide enough time for the
passengers to safely evacuate the aircraft," it said.
    In comments to EASA first reported by Flightglobal, Boeing
cited risks if a jet veers off a runway or its wheels fail.
    "Public consultation is part-and-parcel of an aircraft
development programme," an Airbus spokesman said, adding any
issues raised would be tackled together with regulators.
    
    COMMERCIAL STAKES
    Such technical exchanges rarely capture attention. But a
battered aerospace industry is on edge after the MAX crisis,
compounded by COVID-19, shook confidence in aviation.
    Commercial stakes are also high. 
    One industry source familiar with the project warned any
extended wrangle over certification could delay the A321XLR's
service entry from "late 2023" to 2024 or beyond.
    Should that happen, sources say Boeing is expected to
encourage airlines to wait a few years longer for a potential
all-new model that insiders say would leapfrog the A321XLR.
    While insisting they never compete on safety, Airbus and
Boeing have a record of goading each other in the past over
issues like novel flight computers on the Airbus A320 or
European claims that four engines were safer than the 777's two.
    Fuel tanks have provoked particularly sharp disagreement.
    In 2001, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration triggered
changes to the design of fuel tanks worldwide, five years after
a Boeing 747 exploded in mid-air. 
    Investigators said TWA 800 was brought down by a fuel-tank
explosion in the presence of unwanted oxygen, but Airbus
officials maintained their own jets were less at risk.

 (Reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris
Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson
Editing by Matthew Lewis)
 ((tim.hepher@thomsonreuters.com; +33 1 49 49 54 52; Reuters
Messaging: tim.hepher.thomsonreuters@reuters.net))
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