Enders: Airbus has to change

By Bjorn Fehrm

June 14, 2017, ©. Leeham Co: Airbus Group has to change, following the example of SpaceX and similar cultures favoring disruptive technology, says CEO Tom Enders. Staying the same is not an option.

Enders, speaking at the Airbus Media Days last week in advance of the Paris Air Show next week, said Airbus has seen disruptive technologies turning the table on some of its best businesses. This must not happen to its core business in the commercial airplanes unit.

The driver of technology

“The defense area was traditionally the technology driver. No more,” says Enders. “Today the civil aircraft field is where the innovations are made. The defense field then adopts them.”

Enders says the A350 project is further ahead than any other project in entering data once and then use it for design, production and support of the product in operational use. The process is called digitalization.


From the design of an aircraft through production and to its use by the customer, around 5,000 computer systems are involved. Data is keyed in, processed and the result interpreted and documented in reports.

The reports are read and new data is entered in the next computer systems. This is the classical process. It’s inefficient, time consuming and the re-entering of the information opens the chance for faults.

The result is the 8-10 years of project development to entry-into-service. You can’t work on data which has not been moved from the previous step in the process, so it takes a long time to design and certify an aircraft.

The creation process is serial. Each previous step must be finished and the results entered in the next phase for things to move forward.

Digitalization is about breaking the serial process and making it as parallel as possible,  allowing all members in a team to work on the same data-set, at the same time. The constant question: “are these the latest results I’m going to base my calculations on” is no longer posed.

It’s about capturing data at the source and reutilizing it between designers, suppliers and manufacturing. It’s about using the same data for after sales support.

It’s also about building digital models of the systems in development, so that parts can be tested before the system exists.

And it’s about capturing all the data from the flying aircraft and search for patterns that tells you in advance that the air conditioning system will throw a fault within the next five sorties.

It’s about going from fixing faults to anticipating them. This in the only way to keep the aircraft flying longer days than today.

Changed work organization

“We must also end the Taylor work model,” continues Enders. “Airbus operates in cultures where the boss has the decision, whether he’s the best decision-maker or not. And the work is hierarchically organized, in departments and divisions.”

This is not the work mode where the benefits of digitalization can be reaped. It’s a work organization created for the serial process. The departments take the input, work on it the allocated time and present the result to the next department, one step at a time.

Why don’t we build the complete airplane as a digital model? Then all can test their parts before we have a test aircraft built.

Today’s work model can’t halve the process time. It won’t reap the benefits of digitalization.

“We need a new way of organizing the work, with self-organizing teams, which are dynamically adapting to the problems that needs solving. It’s about thrust-based leadership and digitalization,” declares Enders.

Why these changes?

Airbus sees two established, world-leading businesses, satellite launchers and helicopters, suddenly threatened by disruptive developments.

The Ariane 5 launcher is the world’s most reliable launcher of satellites. It hasn’t missed in the last 79 launches. Its follow-on is the cheaper Airane 6. It cost half as much as Airane 5 per launch. It’s a fundamental improvement, but not fundamental enough.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has moved the goal posts. The reusable Falcon rocket is still cheaper to launch, from a company that didn’t exist 15 years ago and which is not working in the traditional way.

Airbus Helicopters sees drone/UAV companies growing up like mushrooms the world over. There are over 230 UAV companies in China alone, with the world’s largest producer, DJI, now covering 70% of the global consumer drone market. The company that didn’t exist 10 years ago is now turning over $1.5bn per year.

With multiple electrical thrusters the UAVs circumvent the complicated helicopter gearbox and rotor head technology. The UAVs turn the table on the barriers to entry for vertical flight.

Airbus helicopters will now launch electrical UAVs for urban Taxi service at next week’s Paris Air Show.

Enders fears that if these two businesses can be subject to disruptive market changes, why is the civil aircraft business safe? It accounts for 70% of the group’s turnover.

This is behind the push of digitalization, new organization forms and a change of leadership for Airbus Innovation.

Airbus Innovation

Airbus put Paul Eremenko, formerly of Google advanced development and a DARPA disruptive technology leader, to head up its Innovation and R&D activities from mid-last year.

The emphasis has now changed from technology programs to flying demonstrators of disruptive solutions within shortest possible time.

Eremenko is involved in the Helicopter divisions’ electrical Urban UAVs and will fly a 2MW electrical propulsion hybrid demonstrator within three years, (E-Fan X, Figure 1).

Figure 1. Airbus innovations plans for electrical flight. Source: Airbus.

It’s about avoiding someone passing you while you were busy looking the other way

18 Comments on “Enders: Airbus has to change

  1. This is more than excellent … probably … it si way ahead of my old brain understanding capabilities … please explain how it all works in the “next” real world

  2. Innovation is about modifying or creating new CORE DIGITAL PROTOCOLES, each next step in the process coinciding with the VALIDATION thereof by the relevant Authority. But long-cycled industries (as are aircraft OEMs) are complicated by the coexistence of hardware (AND software) based upon different stages of technology maturation, making it necessary to classify and keep accessible each successive protocole freeze when doing product support. Enders game is tricky as it can work only with dependable data storage systems !

  3. This is not digitisation. Its holisitic modelling.

    Unfortunately, most commercial software packages do not play nice with each other.

    Ideally – one modelling environment would exist, CAD would be brought seamlessly into the analyses modellers, these could then take inputs that are already within the environment as “boundary conditions” for sub-modelling and fed back up into the main environment. This would allow an optimisation loop of sorts to form.

    Unfortunately, in reality, software does not talk nicely to each other – regardless of how much salesfolks say. Furthermore, optimisation of such a massive model (as for a full aircraft) requires (a)hardware that no one would be willing to pay for (b)run times that no one would be willing to wait on and (c)boundary data in a level of detail that no one would have when you are incorporating any novel technologies..

    Great for rebuilding the previous aircraft in a more efficient manner. Hopelessly over-complicated to the point it’d fail for building a new aircraft which has new ideas.

  4. The correct name of the Chinese drone manufacturer is DJI, not DGI.

  5. It’s going to take some real rainbows and unicorn innovation to make the weight per kWh work out for the NSA to be electrically powered. Hint: that’s not going to happen.

    • Note that “NSA” is planned for 20XX. Electric power is not feasible today, but it may well be so 50+ years from now. The point is that Enders doesn’t want Airbus to be complacent.

      • Well I’m gonna guess airbus does launch a new small aircraft within 5-7 years of Boeing, which would mean sometime in the 2030’s although I get that perhaps it’s just a notional goal.

      • There might be a reason why Airbus is not interested in a new or bigger ATR-72. The first e-aircraft may arrive soon.

  6. Ahha!

    Lets, I have been through the 7 Pillars of Wisdom, 6 Sigma, Zip 9 and Zap 7. I now get to be digitalized (well maybe not fully if I am lucky I will be out of the firing line by then!)

    I once worked for a company where the President never left his office. No interaction with the employees. Yes, one man can be an islaind, even if is an inland Island.

    What I do know is that the success to a business is talking to and interacting with your employees.

    They are the ones who9 can tell you that you are screwing up and where.

    Now I will grant you, many of those who point out the faults of management, also have their faults.

    But then management ignores the faults, does not elevate the good one (they elevate the political brown nosers because like Trump they get the feedback that they want)

    The problem answer is not 6 sigma, its not 7 pillars, its not Z7 and Zap 9, its doing the hard work and not sitting in your office and telling each other how wonderful you are.

    Digital my foot.

    I can see it now, Our Digital Driven Culture that is cloud based on Jupiter in the end has told us we should all quit and let someone else do this.

    Or as my brother told me

    The thing thing the thing, yadi yadi yadi as our stomachs turn over.

    • Yep.

      Methinks Tom Enders has been a bit too removed from the actual design, analysis, build and support of an aircraft.

      He needs to follow (even better, do) some of the workflows to understand exactly what he is proposing.

      In an ideal world, it’d be great. But as I said, it’ll always be ready to redesign yesterdays aeroplane. Been there, tried it and now know better!

    • Cloud based ? Isnt that how it used to be, each computer terminal accessed data and updated it on a central mainframe. Whats a mainframe you say ? . Its called a server farm now and 10x as big as before.
      Once the people in charge of the project were well versed in the design processes and had done it all themselves in earlier years. Now they no idea what the people more than one level below them do but the executive imperative is to ‘hurry things up’ in spite of a modern airliner taking 3 times as long from detail design launch to first flight than it would in early 60s.
      eg DC9 go ahead April 63 and first flight Feb 65. ( and 5 flying by july!) That was a completely new design not a Max or Neo in sight.

      • Well you know us old farts are always a cloudy base away from what the latest buzz is.

      • Management is essential to set the rules and standards of the development work otherwise you have the A380 Catia versions problems again but on a gigantic scale. Management must have the guts to stop lots of work waiting for correct results making sure Everything is moving forward on real data, then as all the boundaries and conditionas are set making sure 400-1000 complete and correct drawings are issued per Week. It is so easy some designs are built on the wrong assumptions unless the dicipline is there. This applies even more to suppliers, consultants and systems suppliers. Just look at Dassault waiting for the Silvercrest Engine having built a complete Aircraft and most likely parts for 10 more and just sit there waiting and paying interest.

  7. Bjorn you have done a great job here.
    A well written article that describes Enders’ vision for Airbus. This is already happening. He is driving a new culture at Airbus.

  8. Enders has it right. It is all about disruptive innovation. Along with examples cited, there is a major disruption happening in the grocery goods space with Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods just yesterday. With our strong dependency on technology in aerospace we have little choice but to seek out meaningful disruption and seize it.

    • I see several problems with the SpaceX example.
      If a satellite launch fails only the insurance companies will cry. If an aircraft fails …

      The reuse of SpaceX’ launch vehicle may not be that cheap in the end. – See Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle concept was a cheap version of the Sänger concept. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saenger_(spacecraft)

      Too many disruptive technologies may disrupt a company seven-late-seven anyone?

      The main address of such announcements are stock markets and lay audience.

      Disruptive ideas are already here:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator (first concepts: 1895)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *