Interview with Éric Trappier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Aviation.

What were the major highlights at Dassault Aviation in 2016?

To start, it’s worth noting that the international context was, and still is marked by a number of political and economic uncertainties. Despite these difficult conditions, we managed to score several major successes.

First, India’s purchase of 36 Rafales. This contract largely confirmed the business success of our aircraft. We have supplied aircraft to the Indian forces since 1953, and they still have a significant need for combat aircraft which means that we can hope for further orders.

Secondly, we delivered the first Falcon 8X, right on schedule. Thanks to an especially demanding test program, our new flagship bizjet has already shown remarkable operational maturity.

In 2016 we celebrated our 100th anniversary. Our centenary celebration allowed us to reiterate our Group’s DNA, as defined by Marcel Dassault, confirmed by Serge Dassault, and shared by all of our employees over the last century. The main elements in our DNA are a passion for aeronautics, our dual civil-military expertise, a focus on technological innovation, teamwork, responsiveness and tenacity, not to mention a bit of luck, as symbolized by the four-leaf clover in our logo. Dassault’s DNA has been synonymous with success for more than 100 years. It’s definitely not by chance that Dassault Aviation won the 2016 Randstad Award as the favorite company in France, along with the Best Employer in France award from the business magazine Capital.

What are your upcoming objectives for the Rafale?

We want to sign new export contracts. For the moment, we’re at different points in our negotiations with several countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

We’re also gearing up for future Rafale developments, notably the F4 standard which was announced by the government in March 2017. The French Ministry of Defense has also emphasized the need for pursuing Rafale procurement beyond the current production batch and that the objective of 225 combat aircraft set by the last White Paper for the French Air Force and Navy would only be met through a fifth production batch.

We are continuing our deliveries to Egypt, and beginning to organize the deliveries planned for Qatar, starting in 2018, and India, starting in 2019.

Rafale C in flight.
Rafale C in flight.

Where does your work on drones stand today?

The Rafale will stay in production and in service for many years to come. Along with the French government, we’re thinking about how drones can complement manned aircraft. That’s the aim of the French-British program FCAS (Future Combat Air System), which we are leading along with BAE Systems. The feasibility study phase, which kicked off in 2014, is proceeding very well and has been extended for a year. The development of an operational demonstrator should start towards the end of 2017.

Along with Airbus Defence and Space and Leonardo, we are also studying the design of a new-generation observation drone called MALE RPAS (medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft system).

We are in favor of efficient and pragmatic partnerships, as recently proven by our successful management of the nEUROn program for a combat drone demonstrator, which included contributors from six European countries.

nEUROn in flight
nEUROn in flight

2016 was a rather difficult year for the Falcon family…

While we were pleased with the success of the Falcon 8X, the same cannot be said for the general downturn in Falcon sales. Between 2015 and 2016, we dropped from 25 to 21 net orders, and from 55 to 49 deliveries. This situation is due to a flat market for new business aircraft, the large number of pre-owned aircraft available, which put downward pressure on prices, delays in the Falcon 5X program because of Safran’s problems with the Silvercrest engine, and the other manufacturers’ advantages in terms of competitiveness and flexibility.

Falcon 8X
Falcon 8X

This situation has not discouraged us from investing in the future – quite to the contrary. After Safran Aircraft Engines’ announcement of its recovery schedule for Silvercrest development (with delivery of the first complete engine slipping from late 2013 to early 2018), we drew up a new timetable for the Falcon 5X, leading to first customer deliveries being delayed from the end of 2017 to early 2020. Engine modifications are now being developed. The first modified Silvercrest will be tested by Safran in 2017, on the ground and in flight on a flying testbed, prior to aircraft integration in 2018.

We are also working on the Falcon 2000MSA (Maritime Surveillance Aircraft), a variant of the Falcon 2000MRA reconnaissance version. Derived from the Falcon 2000 LXS, it is converted to house a radar, an optronic (electro-optical) system and Search&Rescue (SAR) kits. The Japanese coast guard has purchased a small fleet of these planes. Other countries are interested as well, especially in Southeast Asia, because the Falcon 2000MRA provides a high-performance solution to the multiple challenges of maritime surveillance, including the fight against pollution and trafficking, monitoring borders and exclusive economic zones, rescue at-sea, etc.

Last, but hardly least, we want to be in a position to launch a new Falcon jet at the end of 2017. Preliminary studies are focusing on enhanced comfort and a reduced environmental footprint, mainly by reducing fuel consumption and noise. That’s all I can say for now.

How do you plan to meet these challenges?

On October 10, 2016 I announced a transformation plan called Leading our Future, designed to improve our competitiveness and increase sales, while continuing to build solid foundations for the future. Inspired by our DNA, as I described earlier, this is a short-, medium- and long-term plan that will cover four main areas:

  • culture, skills and organization;
  • digital tools, processes and innovation;
  • our industrial facilities;
  • program management.

I would also like to emphasize that, in line with our long tradition, our highly skilled people are at the heart of this transformation. The main driver will be digital technology, an area we helped pioneer.

We have a host of advantages to ensure the success of Leading our Future, starting with the support of the Dassault family, which founded our enterprise and is still the largest shareholder. This remarkable continuity gives corporate management the stability demanded by the aerospace industry, a sector in which product cycles are long and accumulated experience is vital. We even bolstered our stability in 2016, as Airbus Group continued to divest its shares, allowing GIMD to increase its capital stake from 56% to 62%.

We can obviously count on our engineers, technicians and skilled trade workers, who combine to form an impressive core of intelligence, professionalism, loyalty and team spirit. We are also counting on our close relationship with Dassault Systèmes, which has enabled us to assume a position of leadership in the digital revolution in industry. Lastly, along with Thales, in which we hold a 25% stake, we form a strategic partnership that strengthens synergies in state-of-the-art defense technologies.

Lastly, along with Thales, in which we hold a 25% stake, we form a strategic partnership that strengthens synergies in state-of-the-art defense technologies and contributes to our income stream and contributes to our income stream.

In conclusion, we never stop innovating, whether in the civil or military sector, through the processes and skills deployed, in our organization and in the tools we use. Dassault Aviation is being transformed, but our vocation stays the same.

Éric Trappier
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Aviation