Ahead of the UK ADS trade association annual dinner tonight and which I am sure will be a lively and very enjoyable networking occasion for all those attending just a few words about the pleasing state of the European commercial aerospace industry. However, just before I move on to do that may I first offer sincere congratulations to Paul Kahn, current President of Airbus Group UK, who has in addition to his existing Airbus role now taken on the important role of being President of ADS. I know Paul very well and believe him to be an excellent choice and one who will galvanise the UK aerospace, defence and security industry to move ahead. I now look forward to working with him in the future and just as I have supported the aerospace and defence growth partnerships over the past three years since each were founded, to working with him to further the interests of all three of these important UK industries on an equal basis.
Tom Williams who is the Chief Operating Officer of Airbus was in town last week and in great form too. At the Royal Aeronautical Society he provided a very interesting perspective on the present state of the aerospace market together with the variety of issues that it faced. The central message is that Airbus is doing very well and with an order backlog of 6,800 plus aircraft or nine to ten years production at present rates the future looks very good. That is certainly true but the view from on high is one that also recognises the various challenges involved in achieving all targets set particularly those of raising production of aircraft that are just coming into production such as the A350 and A320NEO.
Clearly, having invested in new US and China production plants, invested in new technology aimed at speeding production and as it continues to exploit new technologies such as composites Airbus is more than doing its bit internally. So too are many of its suppliers but as we have seen in respect of the supply of aircraft seats, some parts of the supply chain have been struggling to meet demands and pressures placed on them. The pressure on the supply chain to perform is not surprisingly relentless and persuading some that investing in raising production is not the gamble that it may appear is not necessarily easy.
I found it fascinating that Tom Williams chose to remind his RAeS audience last week that when Airbus originally set out to design and build the A320 family of aircraft back in the early 1980’s that they imagined the total build requirement would be just 600 aircraft. To date they have built over 6,000 of the A320 aircraft family and one might reasonably expect them to build at least another 6,000 if not a lot more than that as well!
It was pleasing to hear Tom Williams emphasise the absolute interdependence of operation between Airbus and Rolls-Royce – aircraft manufacturer and engine supplier. This was good to hear and having started his engineering career at Rolls-Royce many years ago before later moving on to join Airbus, hardly surprising. It is clear that the respect Tom Williams has for his wide body engine supply remains enormous.
For Airbus the future will be about enhancing the work it is already doing in making commercial aeroplanes more environmentally efficient and friendly, in exploiting composite technology, investing more in digitisation, robotics and so on. Airbus has come a long way since the original ‘Airbus’ idea was born in 1965. As Williams reminded, it is fascinating to think that back then the combined UK, French and German aerospace industry accounted for 12% of the global aerospace industry and that today Airbus accounts for over half!
Speaking of Rolls-Royce, yesterday the company announced a $2.7bn order from the third largest budget airline Norwegian to supply Trent 1000 engines to power the fleet of Boeing 787 aircraft on a ‘Total Care’ basis that Norwegian is acquiring. It is great news for Rolls-Royce and coming on top of the largest ever $9.2bn order received from Emirates last year to supply engines for its fleet of 50 A380 jets it is a further great vote of confidence in the UK based engine supplier.
So, despite worries about the Chinese economy likely to dampen down expectations the great and good of the aerospace industry can head off to the UK ADS trade association dinner tonight in good heart. There will undoubtedly be more growth in the year ahead and there will undoubtedly be issues to face that as yet are unrealised. China is not the problem that many imagine in my view and as Tom Williams reminded last week, the Chinese don’t care about time. This is no time to sit back and relax though ad while the commercial aerospace industry is in good heart with (according to ADS) a global order backlog of 13,331 aircraft of which the trade organisation or its sources place a value to the UK aerospace industry of £180 billion, there are other fires in the forest to fight.
CHW (London – 2nd February 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS