Philippe Petitcolin is chief executive of French engine manufacturer Snecma, one half of CFM International, which is firmly established as the world's most successful powerplant joint venture. Aside from its partnership with GE, Snecma is involved in a broad range of engine programmes currently experiencing mixed fortunes.
What do you think sentiment will be like at this year's show?
I think it will be a mixed feeling. You will have people who are quite happy, the ones who are working on new developments, and who were selected recently on new programmes such as the Airbus A350. I believe that during the air show we will have the great news regarding the first flight of the Boeing 787, which means that all the guys on that programme will be quite happy also. On the other hand you will have a kind of mixed feeling regarding the future because in my opinion in the commercial aircraft industry so far we have not yet been hit with the same magnitude as the other businesses in the world.
Do you think the airliner manufacturers will be forced into further production rate cuts?
If you look today at production of medium-range aircraft such as the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, they stick to a production rate which in fact has not decreased. You cannot say that 100% of the backlog is going to change into real production. There will be some wastage somewhere in the backlog. I think that today there is not the need for the capacity. In addition to that, it is getting more and more difficult to find the financing, which means that the airlines that would otherwise try to grow in order to catch some market share from their competitors are less greedy than they were a year or two years ago.
© Snecma/Eric Drouin
Have you reined in spending on your participation at the show?
We are going to try to be more cautious about our spending at the show, both on the chalet, the booth and even the attendance of our own people. It is not something which [by itself] is going to change the profitablility of the company, but it should contribute like the rest of what we do today in this environment.
Do you plan to scale back your participation at some of the smaller shows?
We will be more strict than we were up to now in terms of attendance at shows, like everybody else. I'm sure that all the guys you are going to interview will give you the same kind of answer.
How is Snecma's services business coping with the downturn?
The spares business is not so good. In addition to the fact that airlines may not want to take additional aircraft, we see today a trend where airlines do not fly their aircraft as much as they did two years ago. You can transform this reduction in flying into less business in the sale of spares.
Is your military business helping to offset declining sales on the commercial side?
Military is a bit different. It is not in the same kind of cycle. It could be a counter-cycle from commercial. We expect a lot today for example from export sales of the Dassault Rafale, which for us would mean an increase in business for our military engine activity with the M88.
What impact is the extended delay in the development of the Airbus Military A400M having?
It is a shame. We could have hoped to balance some of the downturn in the commercial business with such a programme, but it is going to be delayed. There is progress, and it is the kind of progress we all would like to see. We are still doing everything at the consortium level - and especially MTU, which is the prime owner of the FADEC software - to ensure that we can achieve the first flight of the A400M by the end of the year, and we are still on target for that.
You supply the Sukhoi Superjet's SaM146 engine in partnership with NPO Saturn of Russia. With the aircraft making its debut in the Paris flying display, do you expect further sales to be announced at the show?
I really do not know. To be totally honest with you the Russians are quite shy regarding this kind of information, even with the engine manufacturer. The only thing I can tell you is that we have a lot of prospects, and we know that because we prospect the same airlines as Sukhoi. It is still in my opinion a programme which must show its performance to the Western market before we receive a large number of orders. I am not saying we will not receive a few orders, and we did already, but if you are talking about a big carrier I would not expect a big carrier putting a bet on this programme until we have demonstrated that we have done everything we said we would do. It is coming, it is on its way, I am pretty sure it is going to be a great programme, but we need a bit of time to convince all the Western carriers. We need to demonstrate it is a real programme, it is a Western aircraft and that the airlines are going to be able to do everything they are used to doing with an aircraft, and that they will have the same level of maintenance, not more than what they are used to.
Have the problems with SaM146 development funding on the Russian side been resolved?
The financial crisis in my opinion is behind them now. Most of the stock of our partner is now indirectly in the hands of the government and state bank and consequently they should have no more problems regarding financial resources to complete their tasks on the programme.
Do you think that the engine improvements recently announced for the 737 will also be applied to the A320 family?
That's a question you should ask Airbus. We are in discussions with Airbus on various alternatives regarding the future of the A320, and it will be their decision on which way they want to go.
Have you completed re-integrating Snecma Services with the core business?
In my opinion it is done. It went very quickly. These guys were part of Snecma eight years ago and we put them on the side to better service our customers. They are back with us today and the fit went very, very well. Of course, I would not say that everything is perfect. We had a few problems once in a while with our computer network, but they were really minor problems. Ninety-nine per cent of the transfer is done. The biggest benefit is [the ability] to better serve our customers. We think today that a total approach, with the total package of services going with the sale of a brand new engine, must come from the same entity. To that end we have to put all the resources together and make sure that everybody talks to each other. We think we do a great job today, but we want to do even better.
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Source: Flight Daily News