Airbus Industrie's ultimate greatest impact will be on the shape of the European industry, but for much of its history so far the biggest headlines have been about its technology. The driver of much of that headline-grabbing technology has been Bernard Ziegler, who recently retired as senior vice president engineering. His successor, Alain Garcia, says he will stamp his own signature on the engineering task, but adds: "What I do is linked to the development phase which I inherited. Bernard saw us through the pioneer stage. I have to ensure the continuity of standards and to consolidate Airbus' success."

Garcia, who was working on Airbus projects at Aerospatiale when Ziegler joined the team, discusses his mission with the quiet confidence of one who works for a widely respected, established company.

Ziegler, however, still talks today with the evangelical zeal which helped inspire the early Airbus personnel to go where no-one else had dared to tread. They had everything to prove, including their credibility. He talks of the time, only ten years ago, when Airbus and its then training organisation, Aeroformation, were trying to educate the new A320 customers about this revolutionary product they were buying. They did not always listen to advice, he says, explaining: "At that time we were a young organisation, not gifted with the kind of authority we have today."

Before the A300's maiden flight in 1972, Zeigler was "deeply involved" in setting up Airbus' 17-man flight-test department. "We worked with an unbelievable enthusiasm," he says; "We were among those who really believed this would go somewhere."

The only thing, says Ziegler, which was revolutionary about the A300 was that it was a widebody with only two engines. On the day Airbus Industrie took to the air, the A300B1's 28 October 1972 maiden flight, Ziegler elected to take the right-hand seat. "We were setting out to do a job, not put on a show," he says. It was a gusty day, Ziegler remembers; more so than the crew would have liked. Having flown McDonnell Douglas DC-10s, however, Ziegler says, there was nothing to surprise him about the A300. "The first time [with an Airbus] that I felt that I was flying a really different aeroplane was with the A320," he admits.

Always wanting to push forward the boundaries, Ziegler reveals that, during the design phase for the A300B1 he thought it would not need to have a flight engineer. He recalls: "One of my first questions to [Roger] Béteille was could we go for a two-pilot crew. He said 'definitely not now, but later we'll consider it'."

To design the A300, Airbus had listened to what the airlines wanted, and delivered it to them in traditional form. With the A320, however, Airbus consulted the carriers about the aircraft they wanted, but had to take to them the idea of a new control system. Ziegler was the initiator (if not the inventor) of the fly-by-wire concept, and this time when he suggested it, Béteille said "yes". Airbus fitted an A300 with a left-hand-seat sidestick and a computer system which enabled the aircraft fly to the same flight-control laws and with the flight-envelope-protection that the A320 wouldeventually have. The airlines then sent their pilots to try it out. Without exception, Zeigler says, they liked it.

At that time Ziegler used a parable to explain the simplicity of the Airbus digital flight-control laws. When the sidestick is released to its central position in pitch and roll, this sets the aircraft on a 1g flight-path, without the need for trim regardless of the speed or power-setting subsequently selected (within the flight envelope). It is like having the advantages of both old and new transport systems, Ziegler used to say: "The coachman in charge of a coach and horses could, through the reins, tell the horses to start, but then they would follow the road without needing further orders. Only when there was a choice to be made would the coachman have to intervene."

Ziegler has not changed his mind about automation's place. "Some airlines tell their pilots to respond to a 'pull-up' command from the ground-proximity warning-system even if they can see that there is no danger ahead." Why not automate the pull-up, Ziegler says, if unquestioning response is what you want?

Garcia, meanwhile, chooses to describe his task more broadly: ensuring that Airbus products respond to market requirements, while keeping them "safe and affordable". He denies that his job is merely as consolidation. "Being quiet on a subject does not mean we are not working on ideas," he protests.

Aircraft coming off the production line today, he points out, will have to be able to operate safely in a changing environment, an important component of which is the sheer density of air traffic which the increasing demand for air transport will bring. This will require what Garcia calls 'the second degree" in terms of traffic-response and crew situation-awareness capability. All new Airbus types are already delivered with reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) capability and the latest airborne collision-avoidance systems (ACAS), but Garcia says that enhanced ground-proximity warning systems (EGPWS) will become a standard fit as soon as the technology is sufficiently mature. Reducing the risk of controlled flight into terrain is a high priority, he says. Ziegler's opinion is that the big challenge in delivering situational-awareness to pilots is how best to present three-dimensional information to them.

Although Airbus has built its success on innovation, any research and development adopted for production today has to satisfy three criteria before being given the nod, according to Garcia. He explains: "Our research axis consists of the three 'Es"; economy, efficiency, and environment." Garcia chooses to start with the third E. "Increased take-offs and landings will mean that the public demands less noisy aircraft," he says, emphasising that engines are not the only issue here. "We are working on reducing the aerodynamic-disturbance noise [produced with] gear and flaps down," Garcia reveals. The A340-500 and -600 will be the first types to benefit from aerodynamically quieter gear, Garcia says, claiming that today's A340s are already the quietest large aircraft in service. The first high-lift devices and undercarriage to be designed from the outset with low noise as an objective will be on the A3XX, he says.

Future aerodynamic efficiencies will emerge from continuing Airbus laminar-flow research. Garcia points out that a laminar-flow-research fin will be flown on an A320 for the first time in 1998. Weight-reduction programmes are aimed at cutting induced drag, and Airbus is researching ways of lowering total power requirements.

Garcia describes Airbus' economy strategy. The manufacturer is running a programme it calls ACE, or Airbus concurrent engineering, with partners, contractors and subcontractors. The concept is that communication between all parties is tighter, with the intended benefit of spotting potential improvements, including cost-savings, as early as possible in the development phase and sharing them, so that the maximum benefit is derived before a design is frozen.

Standardisation across the Airbus family of aircraft is a great producer of efficiencies and remains an aim, Garcia says. He cites cross-crew qualification (CCQ) on the fly-by-wire types, and design for manufacturing and servicing consistency, as being points which differentiate Airbus from the competition.

The urge to standardise can be inconsistent with advance and improvement. Garcia acknowledges this problem where the flight-deck is concerned, but says there is a way of compromising which allows improvement without making CCQ difficult. The answer is to keep what he calls "the basics" - the controls - standardised, and to advance with "the solutions" which, he explains, is the technology which delivers the response to the controls and information to the pilots.

If, or more likely when, Airbus Industrie becomes a company in its own right rather than a groupement d'interêt economique, Garcia can see some benefits for his department but speaks as if he believes the main benefits will show in other areas: "My job," he says, "is to appreciate market requirements and look for answers with our partners." He believes that there should be a major Airbus engineering centre at the Toulouse headquarters. "We can continue to live with satellites around this nucleus," Garcia confirms, stating his belief that having "centres of excellence" in diverse locations "-is in fact entirely consistent with the modern way of doing things." He says that multi-nationalism is "enriching", and pays tribute to the "cross-fertilisation" brought to engineering decisions, but concedes that a centralised company structure will make co-ordination easier.

Source: Flight International