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PARIS: Airbus defence chief targets technological edge

After six months in position as Airbus Defence & Space’s head of military aircraft, Alberto Gutierrez was at the show in upbeat mood, buoyed by a new contractual agreement with customers of the A400M tactical transport and the swift progress being made with a Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme for France, Germany and Spain.

Gutierrez – who took the military aircraft helm from Fernando Alonso, who he describes as “one of the legends of our company” – spent the first three months of this year visiting operators around the world, “getting to know what are the concerns of our customers, and also introducing myself”, he says.

“In certain cases it was like music to my ears – particularly when I was talking with our [A330] MRTT customers," he says. "In some other cases there is still room for improvement.”

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“We have a fantastic portfolio – our products are still state of the art, and with a nice market penetration,” he adds. “We need to consolidate our portfolio, and go beyond and deliver to our customers what they still do not know they are going to need.”

The company is now working on what Gutierrez describes as a strategy to create “smarter products”, looking at competitiveness, the digitisation of processes including support, data collection and analysis, and making better use of advances such as 3D printing and rapid prototyping.

The company received a major boost on 13 June, when Airbus signed a so-called re-baselining agreement with its European customers for the A400M via the OCCAR procurement agency.

“Our main target was to get a stable programme, with a contract that reflects reality,” Gutierrez says. This covers aspects including the “steady and controlled” introduction of new capabilities, retrofit work on aircraft already delivered, and on future deliveries through to 2030.

“In 2018, we delivered for the first time all that we planned – it was a proof of credibility to the customer for them to sign the global re-baselining,” he says. “And 2019 is going on exactly the same path.”

Support from satisfied launch customers will be vital to helping Airbus secure future export sales, Gutierrez says. “Still the aircraft is not delivering the availability that we are aiming for, but we are getting there,” he says.

The company is also determined to maintain its sales edge with the A330 multi-role tanker transport, an example of which operated by the French air force is on static display at the show.

Noting that Boeing’s KC-46A tanker “is around the corner”, Gutierrez says: “We have been selling MRTT because we have got a huge technological gap to the competition. We need to maintain this gap, so it is key that we keep investing and get something that will be better than the competition.”

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Working with partner Lockheed Martin, Airbus is already eyeing a future KC-Y opportunity with the US Air Force, and Gutierrez describes the in-service A330 MRTT as “a non-risky solution”.

Meanwhile, in his parallel role as the head of Airbus Spain, Gutierrez says he is delighted that Madrid used the show to participate in the latest FCAS study activity with Berlin and Paris.

“Now we have to take the next step, which is how the industrial process is going to be established," he says. "We are expecting this to happen within the coming months. It is a fundamental step towards the continuity of the aeronautical industrial base in Spain, as it will allow it to stay state of the art.”

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