A few days before the opening of the MRO Asia-Pacific exhibition in Singapore, we met Laurent Martinez, Senior Vice-President of Airbus's Services branch. This provided the opportunity to take a look back at Airbus MRO Alliance, Skywise and Airbus Interiors Services and also a more general look at Airbus's ambitions in Asia for services. Exclusive interview.
How much do services account for at Airbus Commercial Aircraft and what objective have you set for 10 years' time?
Today, services account for 5% for the Commercial Aircraft branch. They are growing strongly, +18% in 2016, with an ambitious objective in 2017. For 2016, this represented turnover of 2.8 billion dollars. We don't have a public 10-year objective. We know that the services market will practically double in 20 years and we know that we will have strong organic growth. But, unlike Boeing, we don't give any precise medium-term objectives publicly. Obviously, this doesn't mean we don't have any in-house, but we don't communicate on them.
The digital revolution is also under way in MRO. You are also announcing that it will be a sort of "fly-by-data", a revolution which will be at least as significant as the arrival of fly-by-wire in commercial aviation. But do you think that operators will be adopting it as quickly as you have stated?
"Fly-by-data" isn't just a play on words. I think we are at the start of this revolution. We are currently seeing a huge appetite for it from airlines. I would say that it's in the top 3 on the management agenda for all airlines on the planet. We have significant capacities with the Skywise platform which we unveiled at the last Bourget airshow and we currently have very clear signs of interest in that we have already been working with 7 airlines* for a little over 12 months now, which confirmed their advantages in terms of operational effectiveness. We are certain that the combination of our ability as Airbus to know the plane "nose-to-tail", the technological capacity of Palantir and Skywise and airlines' operational capacity is the combination which will enable us to go from " fly-by-wire" to "fly-by-data". If I had one important message to pass on it would be that "fly-by-data" isn't just Airbus alone. It is a partnership between Palantir for the technological aspects, the airlines for the operational aspects and our design office. It's a winning combination. As for its implementation, we are currently at the proof of concept phase with the 7 airlines. Over the coming months we will be moving to a broader deployment of Skywise for the interested airlines.
What's about FOMAX? Is it about getting previous generation planes to talk?
That's exactly it. We use the term "talkative aircraft". FOMAX is a box which was developed with Rockwell Collins which enables us to go from 400 to 24 000 parameters on the A320 and from 1 500 to 40 000 parameters on the A330. This then increases the amount of information by a factor of sixty and the capabilities to carry out predictive maintenance, operational optimisation and flight operation optimisation to the same degree. It is the key for using all the benefits of digital with the A320 and A330 platforms. FOMAX is still in the development phase and will be certified in the first half of 2018. It will then be standard in line-fit on all A320s and A330s. We will then be working on major retrofit campaigns with certain airlines. Installation should only take a few night-shifts per plane.
You also launched Airbus Interiors Services last year, an activity illustrated by the recent contract from Qantas for its A380s. How is this real DOA positioned in relation to the existing know-how of the different members involved in the AMA alliance?
Airbus MRO Alliance (AMA) will be carrying out the cabin "embodiment", meaning real MRO work while Airbus Interiors Services develops engineering solutions. Airbus Interiors Services defines the plans, procedures and all the equipment needed for a cabin change and then the AMA members will be able to implement these modifications. The strength of Airbus Interiors Services is that it is an agile company which can react very quickly to requests from airlines, both for cabin reconfiguration and for monuments and equipment. This is the case for Qantas where Airbus Interiors Services will be developing specific elements for its A380 fleet.
What are the main differences between the new AMA alliance and the previous Airbus partner network?
MRO Network's logic was to accompany the major increase in our fleet at the time. It provided assistance to have a first level of interaction and partnership with a fairly large number of MROs. What we want now with Airbus MRO Alliance is a much tighter, much more exclusive partnership, which enables its members to benefit from Airbus's strike force in terms of design, engineering and digital capacity and, conversely, to enable Airbus to use MROs who are leaders in their field, on a worldwide level. AMA now has 6 official members: Sabena Technics, AAR Corp., Aeroman, Gameco, Etihad Airways Engineering and China Airlines. The alliance completes our subsidiaries or joint ventures: Sepang Aircraft Engineering, HMS Services, ELTRA and GCAM. One other point I would like to emphasise is that with the acquisition of Sepang Aircraft Engineering as a whole, our objective with the AMA members is to define together the MRO of the 21st century. The innovation side with the smart hangar is a key element for us to stand out from the rest of the market and to be able to increase effectiveness for airlines.
Asia will become the real promised land for MRO over the next few years. Five of the members of the AMA alliance and subsidiaries or joint ventures are also based in Asia. What's happening with your partnership plans in Thailand and Taiwan?
The growth in the MRO market in Asia is spectacular. We know that the increase in fleets will mainly occur in Asia and so it makes sense for us to have a strike force there. According to our long-term forecasts**, the Asia-Pacific region's fleet will grow from 6 100 planes today to nearly 17 000 in 20 years' time. Concerning Thailand, Fabrice Brégier signed a MoU with Thai Airways in March to create a maintenance centre at U-Tapao in the context of a government project to develop the economic zone in eastern Thailand. It is a project which has a high level of visibility and which is strategic, both for Thailand and for Airbus. The project is continuing to move along and there is a lot of interest from both parties. We hope that this project will come to fruition over the coming months and years. It's a long-term project where we're turning a military airport into an international class MRO centre. For Taiwan, we are working with China Airlines on a partnership project to help them develop their MRO capacities. CAL Engineering & Maintenance are also one of the 6 founder members of Airbus MRO Alliance.
GMF AeroAsia, which is now independent from Garuda, is looking for new strategic investors. Are you interested? More broadly, what are your plans for Indonesia and China?
I can't comment on this specific subject. Indonesia is obviously a major market which interests us, in particular with Lion Air or Garuda. It's a strategic country and a strategic region and we will pay close attention and look at all the possibilities for us to develop in partnership with players in this region. For China, which is an essential market, we already have ELTRA for equipment repair and GECAM. We have close relations with the three major Chinese airlines to develop partnerships, in particular with the arrival of the A350 in China over the next few weeks. We are also working with the China Aviation Supplies Holding Company (CASC) in a certain number of partnerships in the services field. We signed an MoU with CASC in 2015 targeting a certain number of partnerships for equipment, PBH services (Airbus FHS) and innovation.
(*) AirAsia, Delta Air Lines, easyJet, Emirates, Hong Kong Airlines, jetBlue and Peach
(**) Airbus Global Market Forecast 2017-2036 (GMF) - read here!