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U.S. approves conditions for Airbus A321XLR to address fire risks

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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it has approved special conditions for the Airbus A321XLR after concerns were raised that a novel type of fuel tank could pose fire risks in its newest narrow-body jet.

Rival planemaker Boeing told European regulators in 2021 the architecture of a fuel tank intended to increase the A321XLR’s range “presents many potential hazards.”

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The FAA said in a filing it will require that the lower half of the A321XLR fuselage, spanning the longitudinal area of the tank, be resistant to fire penetration to protect passengers.

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The FAA publication provides further clarity surrounding the development of the new jet, whose introduction has been delayed to 2024. Industry sources say delivery schedules of the longer-range single-aisle jet had been left uncertain while regulators pondered how to treat the novel design.

Airbus said Thursday “authorities are applying more scrutiny across the board on all certification activities in the current environment” and said “entry-into-service is scheduled in Q2 2024 in order to meet certification requirements.”

Airbus added “there is a focus on certification of the RCT (Rear Center Tank) design for the XLR. Airbus expects no significant impact on the XLR’s unique range advantage in the single-aisle segment.”

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The FAA said the special conditions are needed because the new Airbus twin-engine plane includes an RCT located in the airplane fuselage rather than in its wings.

The tank is in an area of the lower fuselage that partially replaces the aft cargo compartment of earlier aircraft designs.

The FAA said the design was not envisioned by its requirements for insulation installations set to raise post-crash fire safety protections and ensure an additional barrier between occupants and an external post-crash fire.

The FAA said the special conditions are “necessary to establish a level of safety equivalent to that established by the existing airworthiness standards.” (Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Lincoln Feast.)

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