THE REAL STUFF

UAE, Dubai 2012 | TRANSPORT & LOGISTICS | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Habib Fekih, President of Airbus Middle East, on the benefits of being based in Dubai, the success of the Dubai Airshow, and staying ahead of the game.

Habib Fekih
BIOGRAPHY
Habib Fekih has been the President of Airbus Middle East since June 2006, and was also appointed the President of Airbus Corporate Jets in 2011. With more than 30 years of aviation experience, he is a veteran in his field and has played a major role in developing and expanding the regional aviation industry.

What is the significance of this market in terms of the company's global operations?

The Middle East has in many ways become a leader in global aviation and has always shown a strong desire to grow its aviation footprint, not just regionally, but globally as well. At Airbus, we strongly believe in the region's strengths, which is why we established a fully fledged subsidiary here—Airbus Middle East—in 2006, and our global market forecast predicts that the Middle East will take 7% of the world's aircraft deliveries between 2011 and 2030.

Dubai has become a hub for the entire aviation industry, and the company's regional headquarters is located in the Dubai Airport Freezone (DAFZ). What are the main strengths of the Emirate?

Dubai's main strengths are in its perfect geographical location between East and West, which enables it to act as a vital passenger and cargo hub between Asia and Europe, and its rich aviation history—everything from the original airport in 1959, to the opening of the Middle East's largest airport—at the time—in 1971, and the founding of Emirates Airlines, now one of the largest airlines in the world. Dubai also has some of the best transport logistics systems in the region, making it a natural place for Airbus to maintain both a commercial office, as well as a material and logistics center, and training team.

A high demand for Airbus's lower-cost, single-aisle aircraft were to thank for such sales figures at the airshow. Will you be ramping up the production of wide-bodied aircraft?

Each Airbus aircraft has its unique place in the market, and with the recent expansion of many short-to mid-range carriers, we've seen excellent sales of the A320neo, which offers more than 15% fuel savings with its new generation engines and large wingtip devices called “sharklets." However, mid-to long-range flights are also growing in number, which is why the A380 has remained so popular with larger carriers, and why the new A350 XWB program, which will offer 25% fuel savings compared to the competition, is a success, with over 550 of the aircraft ordered to date. The A350 XWB entry into service will be in the first half of 2014, with Qatar Airways as the launch customer.

What impact do Boeing's development plans for the next decade have on Airbus' strategy?

When developing a new aircraft, we must think years ahead to what technology might be available not only at the new aircraft's entry-into-service (EIS) time, but also within its 40-year lifetime. Predictions are not always easy. We have to carefully evaluate when exactly is the right time for a game-changing aircraft. We currently foresee a game-changing aircraft of this type with an EIS between 2030 and 2035. This timing is largely dependent on an engine breakthrough with a 20%-25% reduction in fuel burn, which, at this point, would probably be an inducted fan type being developed by NASA. Current technologies simply cannot provide significant improvements over what is already available today, beyond what we're doing with the A320neo and A350 XWB. In terms of competition from countries like China and Brazil, which are currently showing a great maturation in their industrial capacities, including aircraft production, our current global market forecast predicts that the world will require almost 27,000 more commercial aircraft by 2030. Given this, we feel there's lots of capacity within the market for Airbus to retain its lead across all sectors regardless of any new competition.

What is your outlook for Airbus, and the industry as a whole for 2012?

Things are looking good for 2012. While we don't anticipate another record-breaking year like we had in 2011, we still predict strong sales in the 600-650 order range for commercial aircraft, and around 570 commercial deliveries, and we will be spending the year continuing to work hard in both our A380 and A350 XWB production programs, with the Final Assembly Line start for the A350 program imminent, the certification of the sharklets for the A320 by year-end, and the recruitment of at least 4,000 more employees during the year as some of our key targets for 2012.