EADS Boss Louis Gallois on the A380 'I Was Told There Was a Problem'
The A380's image has been tarnished ever since a Qantas plane was forced to make an emergency landing after an engine exploded. In a SPIEGEL interview, the CEO of Airbus parent company EADS, Louis Gallois, talks about the defective Rolls-Royce engines, competition from China and the ongoing dispute with Boeing over illegal subsidies.
SPIEGEL: Monsieur Gallois, what is your opinion of German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg?
Louis Gallois: He is clever, he grasps issues quickly and he is a good conversationalist. In short, he has impressed me, even if we sometimes hold different views.
SPIEGEL: Guttenberg wants to trim the German defense budget by more than 8 billion ($10.6 billion), a move that will include cancelling orders for EADS helicopters.
Gallois: I hear rumors like that again and again. But they are certainly not as noteworthy as the minister himself!
SPIEGEL: Other European countries are also reportedly seeking to reduce their military budgets.
Gallois: Our home countries are indeed facing tight budgets. But it doesn't look quite so grim yet. Our orders are safe in Great Britain, for example, where they see the A400M, the tanker and the Eurofighter as being indispensible for their own security. In France, spending has at least remained constant. We expect more detailed information for Germany in early 2011. The focus there, for now, is probably that the Defense Ministry wants to reduce spending and adapt the structure of the Bundeswehr to future missions. As far as our contracts are concerned, we are taking a wait-and-see approach, and I'm not without hope. After all, the budgetary situation in Germany isn't nearly as tight as in other European countries.
SPIEGEL: Although governments have accommodated you on orders for the A400M military transporter, you have still had to lower your expectations. Will you ever make money with it?
Gallois: We are grateful to the governments for having supported us in reaching an agreement. However, the project is still a substantial burden for us. We have written off 4 billion for the first 170 aircraft. That was a shock for us, but now it's over. The aircraft has strong export potential for the future, because it's extremely cost-effective for operators and can be used in a broad range of applications. We are already in touch with potential buyers, including the United States, which is also interested. However, we can only offer them delivery dates starting in 2020, because our production is fully booked up until then.
SPIEGEL: You also want to grow your security business. Is the defense business becoming less important for EADS?
Gallois: Not at all, but we do have to promote exports. In addition to Europe, the biggest potential clearly lies in the United States. We represent about half of the worldwide defense market. As a third regional pillar, we are expanding our presence in Asia, the Middle East and Brazil, where we need to make massive investments in research, labor and production. At the same time, we want to expand our security-solutions business, which is growing rapidly. It's something that affects each and every one of us. Just think of the recent discovery of a dummy bomb at the airport in Namibia.
SPIEGEL: A recent engine problem on an A380, your civilian flagship jet, owned by the Australian airline Qantas, attracted a great deal of attention. How did you find out about it?
Gallois: I received a call from Airbus and was told that there was a problem with one engine. I was initially very calm, however, because I knew that the plane has four engines and can easily fly with three.
SPIEGEL: And were you dismayed when you saw how much damage the explosion had caused?
Gallois: Yes, but I quickly realized that, despite the incident, the aircraft continued flying safely for another hour and 40 minutes. The autopilot initially remained switched on after the incident, which is a clear sign of sufficient redundancies. The A380 is certified according to the strictest safety standards today, and in this case it survived an incident that lies well outside the certification framework. We see safety in aviation as a top priority, and we don't make any compromises in that respect.
SPIEGEL: The Australian investigative agencies list a number of systems that failed as a result of debris from the explosion. Do you anticipate new safety regulations that will require changes not only to the engines but also to the aircraft itself?
Gallois: In the context of certification, one assumes that in a case like this only one projectile penetrates the aircraft. Given the fact that there were three projectiles here, the A380 stood up remarkably well, thanks in part to two hydraulic and two electrical systems. Don't forget that despite the failure of a few circuits, there was still a sufficient number of intact systems, which enabled the crew, in a tour de force of flying skill, to safely maneuver and land the aircraft without anyone being harmed. Naturally Airbus will take a close look at the authorities' recommendations. For now, however, the investigation is still underway.
- Part 1: 'I Was Told There Was a Problem'
- Part 2: 'We Definitely Have the Better Aircraft'