John Walton: Hello, and welcome to Runway Girl Network In Conversation, a deep dive into aviation and the passenger experience. I’m RGN deputy editor John Walton. And today, I’m in conversation with Caroline Bruneau, deputy editor of French aviation media outlet, Aerospatium, live from the Paris Air Show. So please forgive the sound of military jets performing aerial displays in the background as we talk about what the Paris Air Show, the Salon du Bourget, means for the aviation industry here in France.
Walton: We’ll also talk about the growth of the services industry, the moves within French politics to ban domestic flying, the need to inspire future generations into the aviation industry, and much more. But first, thanks to our sponsor. In Conversation is brought to you by Boltaron, a Simona company. Purveyor of high performance thermoplastics for tomorrow’s aircraft interiors. As you draw the latch for your tray table, consider the texture and form of the tray, shaped specifically for your in-flight service convenience. That’s Boltaron, learn more at B-O-L-T-A-R-O-N dot com.
Walton: Now, on to the show.
Walton: And, welcome to Le Bourget. I’m here with Caroline Bruneau, deputy editor of Aerospatium. Welcome to the podcast.
Caroline Bruneau: Welcome John. Thank you for having me.
Walton: So, how many Salons du Bourget have you been to?
Bruneau: Probably 18. My dad was working in the industry, and every single time there was a Le Bourget I came. So since [I was] a very little girl, I’ve been here every two years.
Walton: Okay. So how’s it changed over the years?
Bruneau: Well, it becomes bigger and bigger of course. But I must say, the last couple years it became less interesting for the public because of the lack of a new program. And people love the images. So there have been less of Le Bourget in French news. Which is a bit sad for such a big industry.
Walton: Yeah. Exactly. And obviously this is in the context of the Farnborough Air Show cutting out entirely its public air days. One of the whole points of a big air show like this, especially the public flying displays, which you can probably hear going on outside, perhaps, being announced. Part of the whole thing with that is to inspire a next generation of aerospace engineers, of aerospace workers of all kinds. That going to be a real issue for France, I think, in terms of getting the right mix of skills, the right number and mix of people interested in the industry.
Bruneau: It’s actually already a problem, because there’s tens of thousands of positions open, and they can’t just figure out how they will get the engineers, how they will get the technicians they need. Here in the air show they’ve opened l’Avion des Métiers, so it’s aircraft for new pupils for employment-
Walton: Yeah, the aircraft of jobs.
Bruneau: Exactly. It’s very big and I think it’s very interesting for a lot of young people and for the companies. But, they’re still lacking the workforce. If you don’t have a picture, for instance I am talking about EVTOL, all these new aircraft that could come and types of thing. But they have not shown anything flying, actually. So, we can’t really figure how the industry will look like, and how can you interest people if you don’t show them what they could have?
Walton: What is the avion des métiers? What does it look like, here at the show?
Bruneau: It’s a big hall with a lot of stations, where technicians are showing to young people what kind of job they’re doing, which is very interesting. There’s as well a university and special school, like a pilot school, or engineer school, that are presenting themselves. There’s a lot, and lot, and lot of companies actually offering positions, like MBDA, Airbus, Thales. It seems very interesting. But, is it enough? I don’t know.
Walton: And look, I think there’s a huge amount of work to be done all around the world, in terms of filling the jobs — you see anyone’s commercial market forecast. We’re looking at millions and millions and millions of people who are going to be needed to operate the aircraft industry of the future.
Walton: So, that’s one of the contexts, of course, for a really difficult year for aviation. And a really different year, here at the show. Obviously Boeing came into this show with the 737 MAX still hanging over itself. So, how does this show feel different, from previous years?
Bruneau: It feels different, first of all, because of course the sad situation of Boeing, that’s still a problem. And nobody can really be happy that such a tragedy happened in the industry. As well, because there is no new programs, so there was no image. When I say there’s nothing in the news in France, it’s because you have nothing to really look at. You can’t have people dreaming about the A320, because it’s been here for 40 years, so-
Bruneau: Why didn’t they bring the Beluga XL for instance, to have this big picture. And there’s no A380 anymore, so I think the European aviation has a lack of dream, really.
Walton: I’m interested to note that the Hi Fly A380… that wonderful one that was unveiled last year with the message about marine life… which, of course is hugely in the public zeitgeist right now, people are very concerned about environmental concerns. That’s going to arrive tomorrow, which is the day after the professional show finishes, as everything wraps up for the public shows this weekend. So, at least it’ll be around. And it’ll be flying, which is great.
Walton: But just across the runway from where we’re sitting right now in Chalet Row], is this very sad looking… the first test vehicle of the A380. People who might’ve been around a couple of years ago remember that one as the one that had the A380 Plus winglets on it. Which was the last gasp, trying to get the A380 some more sales.
Bruneau: Yes, the day before the last Bourget, when we still hoped something could happen with the plane.
Walton: Yeah, exactly. It’s been very interesting, both around… where Boeing has come in. But also here in France… Many of our international listeners won’t be familiar with the current kerfuffle going on around flying domestically in France. Caroline, can you explain a little bit what’s happening, in terms of people wanting to ban flying domestically here?
Bruneau: I must say, it’s kind of a problem for the industry. First of all, you need to know that French people love the TGV, the high-speed train. And for a lot of people, it makes more sense to have more TGV. So, this very fast train, they really love it. They take you from Paris to Marseilles in three hours. An aircraft will do the same things, but you have to travel to the airport and all these kind of problems. So, they’re wanting to ban domestic flight. But the problem is, half of the domestic flights are just transfers. You go from Marseilles to Paris, and then fly to New York, for instance, or San Francisco. So, with this environmental footprint, which is very important, they actually disturb the message of how important the industry is for the country. And it was just before Le Bourget, so that was really not good publicity for the air show.
Walton: This proposal was from La France Insoumise, which is the… would you characterize it a hard-left party, here in France?
Bruneau: Well, the problem is they were not the only one, because then the Green Party, who kind of won the election two weeks ago… was of course on board. And a lot of people thought that it would be good for their image, just to attack the aircraft industry. Which is actually the biggest provider of jobs in France, so really I’m not sure about it.
Walton: That said, I can see some of the points, right? Let’s talk Lyon-to-Paris, which is the number one route within France. There are three TGV stations that serve Lyon. There are multiple TGV stations serving [Paris], including one at Charles de Gaulle airport. The problem is you can’t through-ticket very easily. You can’t really get a useful ticket to take you by TGV, from Lyon, to Charles de Gaulle, and on to your destination. Its very restricted, it’s really difficult… You look on Google Flights, or a lot of other online ticket agents. They don’t cover it. Only some airlines are covered. I think this is the real problem.
Walton: Now, of course that assumes you have a TGV station near you. Where I live in central France, I have to take the train… an hour, an hour-and-a-half, to get to the TGV station. And that’s completely unlinked to the flights-slash-train ticketing network anyway. So, if my local train hits a cow… which actually happened the last time I came back-
Bruneau: Quite often, I would say.
Walton: If a train hits a cow, I miss my flight, and I have nothing to deal with it. Now, this is partly a criticism of the industry, but also, of course of the people behind the rail industry as well… We need to do more on this inter-modality. To help people make better environmental choices. And to make those environmental choices available, right?
Bruneau: You’re right, but I must… add something to your experience. I got married four months ago, and I needed to take my wedding dress to Lyon, because it was being done there. I tried to get a train ticket. It was impossible. All the trains were packed. I tried to take a flight. It was impossible, because it was packed, too. So, at the end, I had to take a car. How environmentally-friendly is it? It’s not.
Bruneau: The problem of France as well, it’s a hexagon at the end of Europe. It’s very, very, very busy, because all the traffic from North Africa to north of Europe is going through France. So, you have a lot of routes that are already used by thousands, thousands, thousands of people, of trucks, of whatever]. So, the problem is as well, the place we are in. So, you can’t build more train, you can’t build more routes, so you need more flights at some point.
Walton: I think we should build more trains, myself. Perhaps a line that… well this is a little bit more… French domestic transport policy. One of the things that’s been moved to is adding extra capacity between Paris and Lyon, taking a slightly different route through Orleans, and then down towards Clermont-Ferrand. And then turning through the valley when I live, hopefully, to reach Lyon, which would be some non-stop… well, not non-stop… no-change TGVs into Paris. Part of the problem that we need to make sure we’re taking account of is that when you build a TGV line, you have a huge sunk carbon cost, in terms of… money cost and carbon cost, in terms of the concrete you need to use, and the environmental impacts, both national, local and international, as well. So, it’s complex, isn’t it?
Bruneau: It’s a very complex problem. And the other problem is you are destroying the landscape, you are destroying some rural areas. At the same moment, it takes lot of time. Because when you buy an aircraft, the aircraft goes from one place to another the next day, if the regulation’s there. If you want to have a train, it takes ages. And nobody knows the kind of finances or the needs will be, in the next few years. So, the aircraft stays something really interesting. You might even need a propeller [aircraft] like an ATR or a Q400. It’s an aircraft that is not very much slower than a jet on this route, because a small route-
Walton: Yeah, under a couple of hours.
Bruneau: Better the emissions, much more interesting. You have this kind of solution. And not everything should be jets, not everything should be big aircraft. You can have general aircraft, small aircraft. What you have in the US, for instance, where they have very different type of aircraft for doing different routes. In Europe, for many reasons, and of course the low costs, everybody is flying the same type of aircraft, a 737 or A320.
Bruneau: But the industry needs really to make a shift. That was perhaps the biggest message of the airshow. We are waiting. Everybody’s waiting. From the passenger experience, nothing really new is happening. And from the industry itself, we are waiting for the new technology. Everybody’s talking about electric flight, of course it’s not for tomorrow. But at least on the changing technique, the technology, something should happen to make you dream again, and to make this industry interesting again.
Bruneau: Because right now, everybody like Boeing… they gave this figure of nine trillion dollars of services in the next ten years. They are just making money. Money from the ramp-up, money for all the investment they’ve done the last couple decades. But you are not interesting the people with this kind of-
Walton: Right, exactly. This services business is really interesting to me. It’s essentially turning an aircraft into the razor. And the services businesses are the razor blades that you have to buy to keep being able to use the razor. It’s everything from electronic flight bags, to crew scheduling, to maintenance, to parts management, to everything you need to keep the plane going… which would previously just have been the thing the airline did.
Walton: But it seems that both Boeing, and Airbus, and the other OEMs, and other third parties, as well… sees a lot of money in offering these services to airlines, to be able to outsource them. I find that really interesting. And the numbers that Boeing is quoting, is insane. They’re looking, over the next 20 years, to sell about 6.8… sorry, the market for the next 20 years is going to be 6.8 trillion dollars. The services market is 9.1 trillion.
Bruneau: It’s 50% more, right? It’s insane.
Walton: It’s madness. Absolute madness. Good on them for making some money, right? These planes don’t design and move themselves. And with that money, hopefully we’ll get a new generation of more efficient aircraft, and so on, and so forth. But it really is amazing how quickly this services business has taken off.
Bruneau: It’s actually, today, the biggest part of any OEM companies. They want to make money on services. But just go back, if you can, to the unemployment problem. Or the employment problem. You won’t get engineers interested in doing services. You have to sell for them, for the students, for the young engineer, the idea of new programs. So they can be interested in the industry, and then go to the services and make money with it. But, you need new aircraft, really, I think. And the shift from programs… aircraft to services… is a dangerous path, if you want to keep people interested, if you want to keep Le Bourget interesting for people to come.
Walton: Yeah. No, absolutely. And it’s that, it’s also… it’s trying to figure out how you balance the growing importance of these services contracts, with the core business of these companies. And making sure that no one loses sight of the fact that actually, these are air framers. The purpose of them is to build aircraft. It’s interesting that this services business is coming at a time where the industry itself is changing, as well. Airbus, of course… and this is something that maybe our passenger experience listeners aren’t familiar with… Airbus is going in with Dassault, the other large French aircraft manufacturer at this point… which, 50 years ago, if you look at Dassault’s reaction to the A300. You would have never imagined it. [laughter] Here is… Speaking of-
Bruneau: I think there’s an aircraft flying somewhere.
Walton: Speaking of some military aviation. You’d never have imagined that Airbus and Dassault would be working together on a project. They were at absolute loggerheads. And now, they’re working on… I forgot what we call it in English, SCAF. The aircraft-
Bruneau: Yeah, the future military aircraft for Europe.
Walton: Future Combat Air System.
Bruneau: That’s it.
Walton: That’s the one. Tell us about this. How’s Airbus involved and how’s this going to be changing the way that Airbus is as a company.
Bruneau: First of all, the idea of SCAF is to do something European. And everybody knows how difficult it is to do something in this scale. So, they’ve decided to do it on a European level, because just France can’t do it by itself right now, because the money is lacking. And for a 5th-generation aircraft like the F-35, you need so much money. The F-35 is 400 billion dollars. So of course…
Walton: What you’re hearing right now is not one of those.
Bruneau: It’s not. Just the Rafale. Just a small one.
Walton: I think this is the.. is it the Rafale, or is it the Pakistani…
Bruneau: Oh, it’s the Pakistan — I don’t know, I can’t see.
Walton: It sounds to me a little bit louder than the Rafale.
Bruneau: You’re right. I can’t hear, no. But, just they decided to try to do it French and American and German together. And perhaps Spain, and perhaps Italy is on board as well. They’ve been working together for quite some time now, because that’s who has a lot of software, for instance, for designing aircraft. They’ve been building this Airbus… some parts for other fighters, even for the French military fleet. It’s very interesting, because for the first time they’ve been political decisions to do something in common in defense. Now, the plane is supposed to fly in 25 years, and a lot of things could happen till then.
Walton: One of the things I found really interesting, is it seems like, for the first time, we had three women Ministers of State. Ministers of Defense-
Bruneau: You’re right.
Walton: Signing this accord.
Bruneau: You know what I thought when I saw that? Defense is so not important in Europe that they’ll just give it women. [laughter]
Walton: Oh! But the really interesting thing, from an Airbus point of view, of course, is that Airbus’ defense and space business is also growing. That’s been shown in terms of the win for the Airbus satellite program, to produce the latest Inmarsat satellites. It’s interesting. From a commercial aircraft point of view, it maybe that we have some quote-unquote distraction, that other things within Airbus gain priority. Which may well prove problematic at some point, for the business. As commercial aircraft manufacturers grow, the amount of executive attention that can be paid to any one thing obviously diminishes. That’s going to be very interesting, to see how that works out in terms of overall corporate aviation, I think.
Bruneau: The thing is, for a long time… if you take Dassault as an example, but Airbus is exactly the same… they try to balance on both feet. The military from one side, and the commercial on the other side. They’ve focused a lot on the business, on commercial aircraft lately. So they’re going back a little bit. They’ve… quite a few satellites in the last couple of week, which was very good because nobody had done that for a long time. So, it was good for them, but actually it’s just balance coming back. On an engineering point of view, it’s very interesting to have projects on the business side, because it’s a lot of technology coming.
Walton: Yeah, and of course you also get to attract engineers from outside your normal range. Which is helpful. Thinking about some of those odder projects that are here at the show. So you’ve talked about the EVTOL, the Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing. And some of the short takeoff and landing. There’s lot of that going around, a lot of it feels a little bit like vaporware. A lot of it sort of, for me… “Well, once we figure out batteries, this will be great”. What’s your take on this, Caroline?
Bruneau: Ha. That’s a very difficult one. First of all, I’m a bit frustrated that it has not flown. Because it’s sad to see a new project, but not seeing them. The thing is, is it really a need? And is it really possible, here in Europe? We’ve talked about business routes for whatever is flying. Now, I’m not sure that between the center of Paris or the airport, you can, in reality, fly something. I think if the needs exist, that would be done by helicopters for a very long time. France is the first country that has helicopter regulation, and it’s still not flying. So, I’m not sure.
Bruneau: And on the other side, they are doing a lot, a lot of progress on hybrid. Because that’s the biggest focus right now, it’s not anymore the batteries so much. It’s much more on the hybrid, and the hydrogen. And problems with aircraft technology. And that is very interesting, because whatever happens with EVTOL, at least they’ve learned a lot about this technology for aircraft.
Walton: Yeah, and think that was the messages that we were getting from Airbus at this show. They have the Vahana concept they’ve been doing, and I think they’ve said, “Look, we’ve learned some stuff from it. We’re not going to really put it in production, but we’re going to take it forwards”. That, I think, is inherently valuable. But, talking about hybrid propulsion. That’s really fascinating itself. And that’s getting serious, this time around. Because Rolls-Royce just bought Siemens’ business for electronic aircraft—sorry, electric aircraft—their E-Aircraft business. Which is enormous, absolutely enormous as a-
Bruneau: But have you seen, it’s the first time they’re talking about hybrid for real-
Bruneau: Because there was totally electric for the last couple years, then suddenly this year, everything is coming hybrid. It’s really the future, I think. Because the technology already exists… and the power they can realize now, for propellors and EVTOL is really interesting and could be transferred to helicopters, could be transferred to some regional aircraft, or small aircraft. So at least, what they’ve learned is… really, really interesting and could be the shift we need now, to get people interested again.
Walton: Yeah. I’m really interested in the E-Fan X, which is the Airbus… and then was Rolls, and Siemens, I guess it’ll just be Rolls now. It’s basically one of the BAe 146, so that’s the high-wing, four-engine jet. And they’re pulling out one of the jets, and they’re replacing it with an electric-hybrid motor. And that, as a concept, sounds fascinating. Now, of course, what that means the future looks like is going to be really interesting, given that we’re largely in a twin-jet future, at this point.
Bruneau: I think they should probably see this kind of study, like the Formula One, for the alternative. Actually you need to get money on something that is spectacular, that is very interesting, that is capturing engineers to work on. And then to transfer it to normal people, and normal flights, and normal aircraft. So, yeah. Perhaps in the future.
Walton: Now, what we do have here, is we’ve got a couple of A350s. We have an A330 new from AirAsia X, Thai AirAsia X. Did you get the chance to go onboard?
Bruneau: No, I can’t. I have too many press conferences.
Walton: It was interesting because, I got on board the AirAsia A330. And the A330 was one of the neo generation. It looks very similar in terms of what’s inside, to the previous generation. The real benefit there is more about the efficiency and the range of the aircraft. In terms of passenger experience, they’ve got two rows of angled lie-flat seats up front, but then this nine-abreast A330 configuration down the back. Which is very narrow. You’re looking at 16.5 inch seats, and that same kind of thing is offered on some of the low-cost airlines’ Airbus A350s.
Walton: Our regular readers at Runway Girl will know that Airbus has been starting to move towards talking about that being an acceptable configuration for mainline airlines. Beyond the French leisure carries like Air Caraïbes, beyond AirAsia X. Beyond that ultra-cheap kind of option. That’s been a real change for Airbus, and I think they’ve got some interesting strategies there, but also some… We’ve been hearing a lot from them about how, yeah, Airbus 18-inch comfort standards for everyone… that now seems to be being chipped away, which I find very interesting.
Walton: Similarly to the announcement this week that the Cebu Pacific A330neo will hold 460 passengers, in an all-economy configuration. Apparently the airline pushed Airbus and worked with Airbus, to re-configure some of the lavatories, to add in another 40 seats from the previous maximum.
Bruneau: The A380 would be best.
Walton: Well yeah, except the problem for an airline like Cebu Pacific, which you might think would be a natural home for the A380, is that you do need special infrastructure for it. You can’t just use a normal set of stairs, right? Whereas with a medium-sized twin like the A330, they can fly that on regional routes from Manila to Hong Kong, and then use the overnight to go down to Sydney.
Walton: They know their market. There’s a lot of Filipino international workers all around Asia, and indeed the world. If Cebu Pacific can help those folks go home to visit family more often… help family to go visit them, bring the kids out to see their folks-
Bruneau: But if I follow you, you are slowly going to the NMA, right?
Walton: Well, that’s the question, yes. One this that was very much not here, this year, was any mention beyond “we’re not talking about it right now” for the Boeing NMA. Which, of course, is the new-market airplane. The replacement for, sort of, the upper-757, lower-767 kind of airframe.
Bruneau: If only we knew what kind of aircraft it could be.
Walton: Yeah, it’s a little bit fuzzy. And to my mind, every month that we go on without it being launched, the business case for it gets weaker and weaker. You’ve seen Airbus selling hundreds of their new A321XLR, which eats away significantly at the bottom end of that capacity market. You’ve also seen, this week, Virgin Atlantic coming in with an order for some A330neos. Now, the price that they got for those… Again with the pricing discussions. But it’s important to note that the engines they selected for those are the Rolls-Royce engines for the A330neo. I think we all imagine they got a rather good price, given the fact that their 787 Rolls-Royce engines had very high-profile “Not Working” issues. Not to put too-fine a technical point on it, Caroline. So we’re pretty sure that they got a reasonable deal on that one.
Walton: Going back to our environmental discussion. The more newer engines we have out there, the better. They pollute less, they consume less fuel. They have lower noise profiles, and that’s great for passengers. But, at the same time, as you said, they’re… just look like the old planes, to most people. Right? What can we do about this? What do we need to do? To make the planes look somehow different? How do we make that interesting, to the wider community, outside of passenger experience?
Bruneau: This is a very good question. I think we had this discussion already, a little bit, but aviation should focus on what is important on transport first. Perhaps the biggest thing would be to have the infrastructure. You were talking about that. But once we can go to take a plane, as we take a train, it would be much nicer to be in there again, and people will perhaps stop this discussion between train and plane. Because we need both, but not for the same things. What we need… it’s not IFE, or a very special cuisine that people need in an aircraft. What they need is comfort, I think. Which is better seats.
Bruneau: And that’s another problem for the cabin manufacturer. I haven’t seen anything that is really mind-blowing when you talk about low-cost aircraft. Perhaps, I don’t know what you think about it… but, people are changing the shape, they are changing luggage, they’re changing the way they’re flying. So you need to address these real needs. Which is having something to put your iPad, something where you can work. Have wifi in the cabin, which we don’t have here in Europe, or it’s very expensive.
Walton: It’s just about arriving, exactly.
Bruneau: Yeah, ten years after the US. But, to have people think about the industry, or work for it, you need, I think, really core technology changing. And when you think that the engine is really interesting, because you need lower emission. So, to make it environmentally-friendly, of course… But, just to convince people about flying… It’s not bad. Good.
Bruneau: And you need to come, and Le Bourget will keep its public days… Not in Farnborough, because next year there will be no public day… but they will keep because the industry need to show what they can do. And the EVTOLs need, one day, to fly in front of the public. The drones need to fly, because people need to see what we can do. I’m coming back to what I said, we can’t dream with the A320, so we need something we can see.
Walton: We hope you enjoyed this episode of In Conversation, and we’re always keen to find out what you think. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, with any suggestions. Thank you to our guest, Caroline Bruneau, from Aerospatium, which you can find at @Aerospatium on Twitter, or at Aerospatium.info. As ever, you can find me on Twitter at @thatjohn, and everything from RGN on Twitter at @runwaygirl, and at runwaygirlnetwork.com. If you’re enjoying these conversations, please leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts, and thanks for listening.