ILA: Airbus Defence & Space chief details transformation

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As the Airbus Group exhibits at a major "home" air show for the first time since its rebirth at the start of 2014, Airbus Defence & Space chief executive Bernhard Gerwert details his company's achievements to date – and objectives for the future.

Q: What has changed so far within the unified Airbus Defence & Space organisation since 2 January, and what remains to be done?

A: It’s a huge task, but it was utterly necessary, and we are pretty pleased with progress. It’s an absolute pleasure to see our people breaking down old barriers and working across sectors. Here at ILA we are exhibiting as one company, as we have done at all shows since the beginning of the year. We are building senior management teams with new lines of responsibility that are freeing our best people to apply their talents across markets. We’ve just held the last extraordinary meeting with the European Works Council and although it’s a difficult conversation regarding headcount reduction, it’s been a fair and reasonable process. By 1 July we will be fully ready – as we said – and then we will start to reap the benefits.

Q: How important is the Berlin air show for the company, and which aspects of its portfolio are on display?

A: ILA is rather a special show for us. It is very valuable in terms of meeting the many German stakeholders in our activities and successes – industrial partners, suppliers, government, and the public. But it is also an important European event where we can showcase our collective successes, and a regional show which is well-attended by the growing European community towards the east. Plus this year there is a special relationship with our good friends in Turkey. We have an enormous range of products to discuss in defence and space – notably the A400M, which is nearing first delivery to Germany – but also for humanitarian purposes.

Q: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Eurofighter’s first flight. How do you view the type’s future export prospects, and how is the four-nation programme being restructured?

A: The first thing to recognise is that the Eurofighter is an outstanding weapon system. We have a comprehensive and robust plan with our partners BAE Systems and Finmeccanica to ensure that it is a competitive fighter for the foreseeable future. We have good dialogues underway with a number of new prospects. So although it is a difficult financial climate, we are confident of building on our existing base of seven customers [Austria, Germany, Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Spain and the UK] and providing the option of using increased capabilities to let operators achieve their objectives with fewer aircraft if necessary.

Q: Germany’s first A400M will be accepted before the end of this year. Are you confident of hitting the programme’s deliveries target for 2014, and could we see additional sales secured this year?

A: Yes to both! The line is running extremely well and we will deliver 10 to 11 aircraft this year – two new customers will then fly the A400M: the UK and Germany. Plus the flight-test programme for the more advanced military capabilities is continuing very successfully and we can see just how remarkable the A400M is going to be as those functions – like air-dropping, rough-field operations and night-time low-level flying – are implemented. It simply transforms military air transport. So it’s no surprise that we are now getting plenty of interest from export customers and I fully expect that we will see the first real results of that this year.

Q: The former Cassidian unit had great hopes of advancing a European MALE UAS programme. Is this still a realistic vision, and if so, how are you looking to make it a reality?

A: We remain absolutely convinced of the essential need for a European-made new generation MALE UAS, providing complete operational sovereignty and independence in the management of information and intelligence through systems being resilient against cyber attacks. So we intend to propose such a programme to European governments, namely Germany and France, with a wide open scope to industrial collaboration within Europe. The current customer approach is a tri-national development led by Germany and supported by France and Italy. On the industry side the activity is shared between us, Dassault Aviation and Alenia. It would be designed from the onset for flight in non-segregated European airspace, and its characteristics will include mission modularity that is adaptable to the operational scenario, including comprehensive intelligence missions, operational superiority, surveillance and reconnaissance. Such a programme would be oriented towards fostering the development of ITAR-free technologies and contribute to sustaining key competencies and jobs within Europe.

Q: Looking at your space activities, how is Airbus Defence & Space and its key partners progressing with studies around the future Ariane 6 launcher?

A: We are going to present the study findings to the European Space Agency at the system requirements review in November. In the meantime, we continue to concentrate ourselves on the current Ariane 5 to satisfy our customers. Let me insist on this, the Ariane 5 is a fantastic launcher showing an impressive reliability. But we are also looking into the future: we have a contract for continued development of Ariane 5.

Q: Proposals for the then-EADS and BAE Systems to merge became public during the last ILA show. That attempt failed, but do you believe there is the potential for further large-scale European consolidation?

A: We are just consolidating the defence and space business within the Airbus Group. No doubt there are other cases in Europe where the same logic applies, but it is not essential for survival.