Taking aerospace technology to new heights
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in May as well as the pan-European merger two decades ago that resulted in today’s Airbus, the new leadership team at the Toulouse manufacturer is re-engineering its operations to be one step ahead in meeting the expectations of its customers. Associate editor, Tom Ballantyne, reports from Toulouse.
At Airbus in Toulouse, a revolution is underway that is intended to introduce unprecedented change to the operations of one of the world’s great aerospace companies. Read More » Like many leaders in France’s history, Airbus CEO, Guillaume Faury, is moving with speed to simplify management structures and introduce manufacturing reforms in the design and production process of its aircraft.
Just a day after the retirement of the last of the old guard, predecessor Tom Enders, the 51-year-old Faury outlined a new modus operandi for the company that will be implemented by his clean sheet executive team.
“We are in a period of exceptional change in our industry and we need to prepare Airbus for the opportunities and challenges ahead,” Faury said.
“With our pioneering spirit we can build on our past success to prepare the Airbus of tomorrow to better serve our customers, increase our competitiveness and grow in a sustainable way.
“We will utilize new digital technologies to optimize our industrial system and open up market opportunities while prioritizing customer satisfaction. Our organization and ways of working will evolve over time and allow all Airbus employees to contribute to the success of the company. The new executive committee is united in the goal of creating value for all stakeholders while upholding our values and behaving with the right mindset.”
The last of these comments is significant. Faury is taking charge of Airbus at a time when the company has had to end production of its flagship A380 airliner because of insufficient orders.
Also, it must achieve an outcome to a multi-national bribery investigation that has been continuing for four years, a situation that has been unsettling for the group’s 130,000 staff.
No Airbus executives have been accused of wrongdoing, but when a British judge set fines for Rolls-Royce in 2017 for alleged bribery, the UK-headquartered engine manufacturer effectively become a different company with new management. It is exactly what has happened at Airbus, with Faury heading a new team following scheduled retirements of several Airbus veterans as well as a board led clear out of several senior executives.
The announcement of the new executive team in March was followed in May by more leadership changes. They included moving Patrick de Castelbajac (46), formerly executive vice president space systems at Airbus Defence and Space, to head of sales in the critical, fast-growing Asia-Pacific, a post he will take up on July 1.
Airbus is celebrating its beginnings of 50 years ago, when it launched its A300 program in May 1969. Five decades later it has become a formidable rival to Boeing with aircraft that range from the A220 to the A350.
New Airbus CEO, Guillaume Faury, has set in train studies, scheduled for presentation by year end, intended to introduce efficiency gains in the production process that will increase production rates and implement design integration that will bring upgraded aircraft designs to the market more quickly.
Production changes will be based on Digital Design Manufacturing and Services (DDMS) which will incorporate all aspects of product design, production and support on new platforms.
An examination of sourcing systems, including the engine manufacturers and some Airbus subsidiaries, are scheduled to be finished by early 2020.
The challenge for Airbus was in changing from a legacy production concept designed in 1980, Airbus chief operating officer, Michael Schoellhorn, said at the manufacturer’s annual media briefing last month.
“Where major changes were introduced in production techniques, including a substantially higher degree of automation, they hit serious issues. This was the case in Hamburg in 2017. They were based on mobile tools and robotic drilling. Introducing the line was a fairly complex enterprise which was why there were some issues,” he said.
“Patrick de Castelbajac will be responsible for one of Airbus’ most strategic growth regions, the Asia-Pacific. He has demonstrated at Airbus and at ATR his strong business knowledge and proximity to our stakeholders. All are assets needed to successfully advance our business in this dynamic part of the world,” said Faury.
At the same time, Antoine Bouvier (59), formerly chief executive of military missile supplier MBDA) was appointed head of strategy, mergers & acquisitions and public affairs. Faury, who had moved from the group’s helicopter unit to head of the commercial aircraft division last year after Fabrice Bregier resigned, has since abolished his previous position.
A flight test engineer, Faury is no stranger to modern automated production systems. Between his years at Airbus, he worked in senior manufacturing and research roles at French carmaker, Peugeot from 2009-2013 and is expected to make good use of lessons learned at the car manufacturer at Airbus.
“I see fantastic challenges. We have to invent new production systems and leverage the power of data,” Faury has said. “We will utilize new digital technologies to optimize our industrial system.”
“Our competitiveness will be determined as much by the efficiency of our production system as the performance of our products,” he told 135 international journalists in Toulouse last month at the group’s annual Innovation Days.
“We are lifting our production to levels that would have seemed impossible even a decade ago. This year, we want to deliver 880 to 890 aircraft. That’s a 10% plus increase on last year’s record 800 – and that was 10% better than the previous year.
“In the single aisle market, our target is to achieve a production rate of 60 per month by the middle of this year with a view to achieving a rate of 63 a month by 2021. So, one of our main challenges as a company is to improve the efficiency of our manufacturing for the sake of our customers.”
Faury said Airbus wanted to design its next generation aircraft with all parts of the operation united in a seamless production process. “This matters. If the next generation of aircraft is to be competitive we will have to develop them significantly faster than in the past,” he said.
“For us, it is 30% faster for the same complexity. The digital revolution is about new ideas and business models that can be brought to fruition more quickly by aviation businesses everywhere. One of the major priorities is to accelerate the pace of innovation at Airbus.”
Faury wants Airbus to be an even more international company than it is at present. “What does the world look like on our 50th anniversary,” he asked. “Our fundamental purpose as a company has not changed: uniting people, keeping them safe and making the world a better place.
“But many things have changed. Our factories extend well beyond Europe to the U.S., China, Canada and other places in the world. And extraordinary technological innovation is occurring. I am talking about advanced connectivity, electrification, artificial intelligence, digital, you name it.
“It is clear that on our 50th anniversary we are opening the next chapter as a company and an industry. As we set out on this journey we must ensure that our business has the strongest possible foundations in place.”
He continued: “In the single aisle market, the A321 long range provides the longest range of any single aisle jetliner in the world. For airlines this new aircraft is opening up routes that were previously impossible. Then there’s the A320. A great aircraft.”
Airbus delivered its 12,000th airplane, an A220, to Delta Air Lines last month. It has a record backlog of 7,577 orders. Under Faury’s leadership, Airbus has returned production to full efficiency after several years of supplier issues, including problems with Pratt & Whitney engines on its popular A320neo jets.
Strengthening relations and co-operation with these suppliers and improving confidence and morale among staff spread across France, Germany, Spain and the UK are making a difference, but an unresolved Brexit is not helping, especially as Airbus has production facilities employing thousands of staff in the UK.
Quietly spoken and thoughtful, Faury said he was still “learning the ropes” as boss of Airbus. Insiders said the mood in the group has changed from the somewhat combative atmosphere of the times when Enders, Bregier and former top aircraft salesman, John Leahy, were in change.
Then, public sparring with Boeing was common. Today, the focus is on what Airbus is doing and how it modernizes its production systems – rather than what Boeing is doing.
While shying away from direct comments about Boeing’s 737 MAX crisis, Faury did say that when a competitor was in crisis “we take a step back”. As someone who started out as a flight test engineer, he pointed out the risks are high and the responsibility for flying people is to manage that risk.
“We think it is important the aviation sector, air traffic, is safe and therefore we respect the situation. We want to step back and assess it to fully understand what has happened. We always learn from our mistakes. The wise man learns from his mistake. The very wise man learns from the mistake of others,” he said.
“The regulators are doing this as well. Each time there is an incident or an accident that leads to an investigation there are recommendations. The purpose is to protect the safety of the passengers. We just have to be sure the people who are involved in this and investigating this do their work and do their job of sharing. I remind our managers in that situation of their duties and to always put safety first.”
Faury is not fazed by fresh competition from China and Russia as the two countries work to bring new single and twin aisle aircraft to the market. “We like competition. Competition makes us better. Passengers benefit from competition,” he said.
“I strongly believe in a level playing field in creating conditions for fair competition. It’s important for investment. When we are in a good position from investment then you see new players coming in. With diversity and speed of change, I think there is room for many people to compete.
“So basically, more will come to the table. We accept the idea. We will work with some of them to see how we can co-operate. It’s a complex world where sometimes you co-operate and sometimes you compete but when it comes to Boeing and Airbus it’s more competition than co-operation.”
Faury said Airbus was convinced there will be no winners in the trade war between China and the U.S. “We continue to stand up for open borders and free trade that is conducted on a level global playing field. We will strive to remain a powerful engine of prosperity and employment and we will strive to develop innovations needed for a more sustainable aviation sector,” he said.
|A streamlined executive team
The position of CEO of Airbus’s commercial aircraft division has been abolished in the new structure with Guillaume Faury incorporating the role into his position as Airbus CEO.
Members of Faury’s executive team are:
Dominik Asam, Chief Financial Officer
Thierry Baril, Chief Human Resources Officer
Jean-Brice Dumont, Executive Vice-President Engineering
Bruno Even, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Helicopters
John Harrison, General Counsel
Dirk Hoke, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Defence and Space
Julie Kitcher, Executive Vice-President Communications & Corporate Affairs
Philippe Mhun, Executive Vice-President Programmes & Services
Christian Scherer, Chief Commercial Officer
Michael Schöllhorn, Chief Operations Officer
Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer