Airbus executive Gustav Humbert on the challenges of managing a leviathan

Julian Moxon/TOULOUSE

Gustav Humbert, chief operating officer of the new Airbus company, proclaims: "I believe this is the most exciting time in the history of Airbus. We're facing three major developments at once, each of which is a huge challenge in itself." The developments he cites are the integration of the four Airbus partners and the Airbus GIE into one company, the launch of the A380 and the task of managing an increase in production rates to 30 single-aisle and eight twin-aisle aircraft a month by 2003.


Humbert, previously chairman of German Airbus partner DaimlerChrysler Aerospace Airbus, says the occurrence of all these events around Airbus' 30th anniversary "can only mean it is the perfect moment". He says the new company will be the "first of its kind in the world" and adds: "There is nothing in the management books about this kind of thing."

The former partners will be fully integrated over the next three years, says Humbert, "although we're already operating as a single entity-We have all fought for this over the last two years. There's no going back now".

According to Humber, the three main ways in which the new company will achieve its commitment of €350 million of savings by 2004 are:

• grouping all procurement activities under one banner, bringing the power of a single large organisation to bear on suppliers;

• improving management efficiency by eliminating transnational lines of command; and

• aligning processes in several areas such as engineering, manufacturing, quality assurance and certification.

Technical directors will now report directly to Airbus technical director Alain Garcia instead of to their own management. "The Airbus GIE had no real power before," Humbert adds. "We could only cajole, threaten and convince. But there was no authority and that tended to lengthen decision making considerably."

There will be "no brutal restructuring", says Humbert. The present system of "centres of competence" has already led to an efficient production setup, with minimal duplication, and the forthcoming production ramp-up also means that all available resources will be needed. "We will still look for margins where they exist and take them out," he says.

Another challenge is to manage the cyclical "boom and bust" flow of orders that plagues aircraft manufacturers. Production will only be increased beyond currently planned levels of about 400 aircraft a year by 2003 "if there is a business case", he says. "If there is a slump, we have measures in mind. The main thing is to be able to react quickly, and that means putting more work outside."

Currently, Airbus puts 45% of airframe work to outside contractors, a level Humbert says will increase to "at least 52%" by the end of 2003. This will involve a major effort with suppliers, he adds. "They have to be extremely reliable and able to submit to our standards as well as to meet our cost criteria."

Further flexibility will also come from increasing the number of staff on temporary contracts, a figure he declines to give, explaining: "It is very difficult because contract laws vary from country to country." Finally, Humbert says: "We intend to continue introducing automation because it provides instant flexibility."

Source: Flight International