Sky Talk

A Q&A with Airbus CEO Tom Enders

Airbus CEO Tom Enders speaks to hundreds of engineers at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in Dallas, June 22, 2015.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders speaks to hundreds of engineers at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in Dallas, June 22, 2015. Courtesy of AIAA

Airbus CEO Tom Enders said aerospace companies need to be more nimble and willing to take dramatic risks in research and development if they are to remain competitive.

Enders, speaking to attendees of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aviation summit in Dallas on Monday, said it’s important the industry is willing to innovate quickly instead of taking years to make small changes in its products and his company, Airbus has already taken steps to make it easier for its engineers to collaborate.

“The only way to do it for big companies is really to create spaces outside of the main business where we allow and where we incentivize experimentation,” Enders said. “That is what we have started to do but there is no manual...It is a little bit of trial and error. We all feel challenged by what the Internet companies are doing.”

During his visit to North Texas, Enders planned to tour Airbus Helicopters’ headquarters in Grand Prairie where the company has sales and marketing, customer support, assembly and flight test facilities.

After his morning speech, the Star-Telegram had the opportunity to ask Enders a few questions about Airbus, any acquisitions that might be in the works, and new developments of Airbus’s aircraft.

On whether or not Airbus is interested in purchasing Sikorsky Helicopters:

“Sikorsky being a big player in the U.S. but also the world market obviously we need to follow with interest what is happening here. Whether it’s an IPO or the sale to another industry OEM, it will change the helicopter landscape. We are ready for that very reason. We will certainly watch this process and status closely....[but will you bid for Sikorsky?] on that I will not comment.”

On investments made for Airbus Helicopters in Grand Prairie

“We invest heavily [in Airbus Helicopters], we are recapitalizing the helicopter portfolio,” Enders said. “We are doing a lot right now to make sure that in the coming decade we will stay ahead of the pack...I think there were low points two years ago [with customer service issues] and the latest customer service numbers I’ve seen were very positive. That’s something under the CEO leadership of Guillaume Faury, we’ve done a lot to increase customer service at Airbus Helicopters.”

On the new narrow-body aircraft assembly plant getting ready to open in Mobile, Ala.

“I would call it strategic. The U.S. is a strategic market for us. China is a strategic market for us. It’s not by accident that we have a final assembly line in China, the first one outside of Europe and then one soon in the U.S....It’s strategic in the sense that if you look ahead ten to 20 years, we will believe it will still be the largest markets...To be present, industrially present and present in research activities and technology and engineers in these markets, all that helps our market presence and all that helps for customers to see us in this market not as a foreign, European company but also an American company and a Chinese company and that is the larger strategy behind this.”

On the development of the A380 and why it hasn’t sold well in the U.S.

“The A380 currently is in very good shape. We have high reliability of the aircraft.... It is a really mature aircraft right now and passengers love it. Some call it the money-making machine. But of course the differentiator here on if it’s a money making machine or not is can you fill it...We are currently exploring all options on how we can increase the attractiveness of the A380 for our customers and if we do that, as far as possibilities, and not making any predictions about decisions here, yes the discussion focus is very much on the re-engine option...the other thing is if you look around at the U.S. carriers you will find they don’t have plenty of 747s either. They have more 777s, 767s and so on. So I would not exclude the possiblity that this aircraft can be sold to major U.S. airlines, I will not stop trying to convince them.

On making over 900 satellites for OneWeb with the first ones ready in 2018.

“We do more than 600 aircraft a year so what we did is and I think that was a convincing argument in the competition...what we did was took some people form the commercial aircraft division and took a team to OneWeb and shared that knowledge from commercial aircraft to satellite manufacturing and I think producing more than 600 aircraft a year with a lot of customization and varieties like 320s and 350s is much more difficult than producing hundreds of satellites that are identical and smaller in size.