Interview with Éric Trappier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Aviation.
What are your thoughts about the Covid-19 crisis?
First and foremost, our thoughts go out to those of our colleagues who have been affected by the disease and to their families. We continue to do everything possible to support them through this difficult period. We owe a debt of gratitude to all the health care personnel who have been on the front line for over a year, working with such admirable dedication. We have endeavored, in our own way, to assist them, in particular by putting our Falcon aircraft at their disposal.
This crisis has taken on an economic dimension. The government has taken the necessary measures. Along with our fellow Gifas members, we have done everything in our power to prevent the collapse of the aviation industry, which has been hit hard by the virtual suspension of air travel: short-time working, a support plan, guaranteed loans and dedicated funds.
At Dassault Aviation, everybody rallied together in a really impressive way. We developed a comprehensive set of health procedures, expanded telecommuting and provided support to our suppliers. We did all this quickly, transparently and in consultation with employee representatives. In the end, trust, responsiveness and efficiency won out. The company was able to resume operations and gradually return to pre-pandemic levels of activity. In addition, we have maintained our investments in all areas.
Nevertheless, the situation remains precarious. In terms of health, our procedures have proved their worth. From an economic standpoint, our dual model, with its focus on both civilian and military markets, is proving its value: having two businesses that are mutually beneficial from a technological and industrial standpoint, but which are based on markets with very different cycles, is one of our strengths.
Faced with this extraordinary crisis, what has been your strategy?
I set three priorities at the start of the crisis. First, support for our civil and military customers, which needed to remain fully effective at all costs. Secondly, new aircraft deliveries: we have met our projected target for 2020, and I expect no less in 2021, when we will be delivering 25 Rafales. Finally, we have made every effort to limit delays in the Falcon 6X, Rafale F4, Archange and Falcon 10X programs, and we are doing our utmost to catch up. Regarding the New Generation Fighter, we are committed to working together seamlessly with our partners for the benefit of the project, our company and our customers.
In addition to these operational priorities, there are also a number of challenges with respect to sales. The Rafale has acquired an exceptional reputation, and several countries are poised to become customers. A number of new contracts have been signed, and others are on the horizon. A contract was signed in January with the Greek Air Force, supported by an order from the French government; Greece is a loyal customer that knows it can count on our support when the going gets tough, and has become the first European country to acquire the Rafale. At the beginning of May, a new contract was signed with Egypt, the Rafale’s number one customer, both chronologically and in terms of aircraft purchased. A few weeks later, Croatia joined the ranks of “Dassault nations” by selecting our aircraft after a rigorous tender process.
2020 was a particularly difficult year for the Falcon. But there are encouraging signs: few orders have been canceled, the used aircraft market is showing signs of picking up, heralding a broader recovery that seems to be starting in the United States. In addition, we have launched a brand new aircraft, the Falcon 10X, which is set to be the most spacious, comfortable and innovative business jet on the market. Lastly, the Falcon 6X test campaign began in early March after a very successful first flight, which we dedicated to Olivier Dassault, who had tragically passed away a few days earlier. Primed and ready to wage battle, we are part of the new momentum that is building, and we expect to see our entire Falcon range take off anew.
How is your transformation plan progressing?
Following the inevitable slowdown in 2020, the need to press ahead is more urgent than ever. The Leading our Future plan must move forward with a focus on performance, digital technology, modernizing our industrial infrastructure and adapting our processes. In a world that is highly uncertain, Dassault Aviation is intent upon preparing for the future by leveraging its expertise so that it can be more flexible and constantly proactive.
While we wait for the situation to return to normal, we must continue to be patient and cool-headed. These two qualities, combined with tenacity, have never been lacking in our company. We must harness them to achieve two objectives that are more crucial than ever: selling aircraft and supporting our customers.