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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Christian Scherer: ‘Time for renaissance of international air travel solutions in & out of India’

India presents many opportunities — both on the institutional and defence side as well as on the commercial aviation side.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
March 22, 2021 4:07:48 am
Christian Scherer

Making a case for the “renaissance of international air travel solutions in and out of India”, Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer in an interview with Pranav Mukul pushed for Indian carriers to adopt more wide-bodied solutions to claim a higher share in the international segment. He also spoke about Air India disinvestment and how the large four-engine airplanes are now those of the past. Edited excerpts:

How do you see the future in India post-Covid?

India presents many opportunities — both on the institutional and defence side as well as on the commercial aviation side. The demography here, the emergence of the middle class and the propensity to travel, in addition to favourable government policies to encourage commercial aviation, are conducive to opening up significant potential. We have seen the success with our airplanes in the domestic market developing strongly with top class players. Now, it’s the time for the renaissance of international travel solutions in and out of India. Whether it’s new airlines or expansion of existing airlines, what Covid has done is that it has pulled the circuit breaker and now we have to reset the circuit breaker. That’s why I was talking about the renaissance, in particular international travel. There must be now a re-fleeting and rethinking about future-oriented solutions with technology that paves the way for sustainable aviation.

Are you particularly talking about wide-bodied planes?

In particular wide-bodied aircraft because of the demography and the urban centres in this country, it is going to be largely wide-bodied aircraft. If you look at the proportion of wide-bodied aircraft flying with Indian airlines, it is remarkably small.

Where does Airbus stand on Air India privatisation?

What I will say is that there is an opportunity because of Covid to rethink India’s international side of air transportation. So, if the privatisation of Air India lends itself to restructuring or the renaissance, then we support it.

Apart from a few A330s that Jet Airways operated, we haven’t really seen Airbus wide-bodies flying with Indian carriers. Why do you think this happened?

When Jet Airways was flying, their most efficient aircraft was A330. There’re a lot of foreign carriers that come in with Airbus wide bodies into India and it’s about time Indian carriers claim their share of that very profitable market. Particularly, when one tries to construct a future solution, with the lowest fuel burn aircraft, with the greatest range capabilities. The point really is that with the very small proportion of wide bodies flying with Indian carriers, it is time to use the opportunity of the Covid crisis to start with a clean sheet of paper and to equip local carriers with the best solutions, particularly wide bodies.

Why do you think Indian carriers don’t have many wide-bodied planes? Do they have the propensity?

I don’t know why Indian carriers do not…maybe because the right solutions weren’t there. That’s where the rendezvous of the post-crisis clean sheet of paper matches with the future-looking capabilities that we bring.

Do you think the Airbus A321XLR has cannibalised into potential orders for wide-bodied planes?

It doesn’t cannibalise but offer the same solutions. The XLR provides single-aisle economics on international route capabilities from smaller cities to smaller cities whereas the A330 provides unbeatable unit costs on medium ranges such as to Europe, China, Middle East, etc. The Airbus solution, therefore, doesn’t cannibalise itself but offers solution for all segments.

How do you feel about the fact that globally airlines are looking at 787s or 777s as replacements for A380s?

I think the A350 is the obvious replacement for 777. I think it is true that the time of these big four-engine planes — the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380 — is probably gone. Will they continue to fly? Yes, they will continue to fly in some mega hubs. But Boeing has stopped the 747 programme and Airbus has stopped the A380 programme because these are the planes of the past. We are talking about big hubs, which don’t exist because someone declares they exist, but they need to be constructed.

India’s Industry Minister has named Airbus and said the government wants the company to manufacture in India. Do you think it’s possible in the near future or is it a pipe dream?

I hope it’s in the near future because we have made the proposal responding to request of the government to make things in India. We have responded to that with a solution for a military transport with our partner Tata Sons. Most importantly, I want to point out that we are past that point. We run an engineering centre in Bengaluru, which employs hundreds of high-skilled engineers who design airplanes. We are already ahead of this notion of when is Airbus going to build airplanes in India, because we are designing airplanes in India. We are also buying a whole lot of manufactured goods and components from India. The symbolism of assembly lines is not where the value is, but it is in the intellectual property and in the engineering and informational management centres.

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