Louis Gallois, the veteran French industrial executive and former civil servant, is trying to force Airbus to face a painful reality.
Seven years ago when Airbus was changed from its old consortium of national companies in France, Germany, the UK and Spain into a single corporate entity, it failed to restructure in practice.
“We were in a period of euphoria. Boeing was in difficulties, the dollar was strong and we were selling aircraft like hot cakes. Now we have come back to earth. The dream is over. We must do our job. This is the Airbus we should have built in 2000,” said Mr Gallois.
Boeing, the US rival, has stolen a big march on Airbus in recent years as it has revolutionised its own development and industrial activities through the launch of the 787 Dreamliner, its new family of long-range jets which are due to enter commercial service next year.
The rival Airbus A350, only approved for development in December, will be at least five years later into service, but it must be an equal catalyst for change if Airbus is to close the competitive gap on Boeing again.
Mr Gallois said on Wednesday that, as a start, Airbus was aiming to increase its manufacturing productivity 16 per cent by 2010. Engineering productivity should improve 15 per cent, with aircraft development cycles coming down from seven-and-a-half years to six years.
For the A350, Airbus would outsource 50 per cent of the airframe structure to risk-sharing partners, up from 25 per cent on existing programmes, in order to spread risk and gain access to outside capital and engineering resources.
Airbus is seeking to become more the systems architect and integrator, more the assembler rather than the vertically integrated manufacturer.
The Airbus supply chain is also facing a revolution, as the number of suppliers of aircraft parts and systems is cut by two-thirds from more than 3,000 to between 750 and 1,000 over the next five years. Logistics centres will be reduced from 80 to eight.
Eventually, the lion’s share of the work will go to a select band of tier-one suppliers, probably less than 20 for the airframe and a similar number for systems and equipment.
Mr Gallois said he was determined to overcome the “poison” of national conflicts, chiefly between the French and German operations of Airbus. His way to confront the “hidden hierarchies working in parallel to the official hierarchy” is to strip the national companies of operational responsibilities and turn them essentially into “ambassadorial” national public affairs units.
The industrial organisation will be streamlined with the creation of four “truly transnational centres of excellence”, with Germany gaining the fuselage and cabin organisation in Hamburg, wing and pylon in Filton in the UK, the tailplane in Madrid and aerostructures including fuselage sub-assembly in France.
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