Interview with Éric Trappier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Aviation.
What were the major events for Dassault Aviation in 2018?
The major event for us, as well as the entire French aerospace industry, was the passing of Serge Dassault, Chairman and CEO of Groupe Dassault, former Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation and son of our founder, Marcel Dassault. Despite the strategic and economic upheavals in the last few decades, Serge Dassault was able to strengthen the solid foundations of our success: family spirit, technical excellence, efficient management and an exceptional social model. Whether as chief executive or shareholder, he always acted in the long-term interest of Dassault Aviation. His passion for aeronautics, his patriotism, his perseverance, his strength and dedication to work and his future-looking vision will remain engraved in our memories. With the support of Charles Edelstenne, his successor at the head of Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault, and the Dassault family, we are all focused on continuing the work he accomplished and building even more solid foundations for the future. On the horizon for the next few years are the company’s transformation, the Falcon 6X and special – mission Falcons, the Rafale F4 standard, the new-generation fighter and even stronger support services.
What were the highlights in your military business in 2018 and early 2019?
Our defense business has been very busy, thanks to the dynamic Rafale export trend that kicked off in 2015, as well as the upcoming French military spending bill for 2019-2025, including a number of programs that concern us: Rafale, Mirage 2000, special-mission Falcons, ATL2, drones, nuclear deterrence, etc. In short, I would single out four major advances, starting with the qualification of the Rafale F-3R standard by the French armed forces, on schedule and on budget, plus the official announcement of the contract to develop the F4 standard for implementation in 2022-2024.
These are two major milestones in the continuous improvement of the Rafale, based on technological progress and feedback from operations.
Next, there is the strategic French-German project for a new-generation fighter, a project on which our leadership was recognized. The initial political and industrial decisions were made quickly to launch this ambitious collaboration, which still has a long way to go.
We continued to move forward in export markets, with the contract from Qatar for 12 more Rafales taking effect. Qatar is a loyal customer that has ordered a total of 36 Rafales, with the first being delivered in February 2019.
Lastly, we have developed new support proposals for France’s Rafale and ATL2 aircraft, by embracing the Ministry of the Armed Forces’ plan for through-life support reform.
And in the civil market?
Trends are positive for the Falcon as well, with a slow but very real recovery in Falcon sales being confirmed. The development of the 6X is proceeding on schedule,and delivery of this aircraft will start in 2022. The 6X will have the most spacious and comfortable cabin in its class. It will be powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada’s new PW812D engine, and fitted with the FalconEye combined vision system and FalconConnect, our new integrated connectivity solution. Offering a range of 5,500 nautical miles, the Falcon 6X will expand our family of long-range business jets, culminating with the Falcon 8X, which made an impressive non-stop flight of 14 hours between Singapore and London.
Where does your transformation plan stand today?
Transforming Dassault Aviation means addressing upcoming challenges and changing market conditions, while maintaining the DNA that has fueled the company’s success for the last century. Our transformation plan, Leading our Future, is being deployed across four strategic areas: culture-skills-organizations, digital tools-processes-innovations, production facilities, and program management. I am especially counting on our investments in digital to drive the entire transformation process. That’s why we signed an ambitious collaboration agreement with Dassault Systèmes last May to set up a collaborative engineering platform, dubbed 3DExperience. It’s also why we are accelerating our “big data” drive.
Have your investments in India generated the expected results?
As part of the Indian government’s Make in India policy, our sale of 36 Rafales to India, signed in 2016, also included an offset contract representing 50% of the contract value. Starting with this obligation, we are building a strategic partnership with ambitious objectives: win new Rafale orders, bolster our competitiveness in the business aircraft market, multiply high- tech projects. The plant built for the Dassault- Reliance Aerospace Ltd. joint venture in Nagpur, in the middle of the country, produced its first sub assemblies for the Falcon 2000 at the end of 2018, as planned, and is now expanding to eventually handle the complete assembly and flight testing of the Falcon 2000. In addition to DRAL, Dassault Aviation is also handling production in India through an extensive supply chain that already counts dozens of companies. We are encouraging partnerships between the supply chains in France and India. We also created a civil and military aircraft engineering center in Pune, near Mumbai. At the same time, we are considering R&D programs with the Indian Ministry of Defense. In short, everything is proceeding as planned, which means we are well placed, despite the heavy competition, to win contracts from India’s armed forces for 167 new combat aircraft – which would extend the legacy partnership linking us to India for the last 65 years.
What are your top priorities for the future?
For the Rafale, we will continue our export marketing efforts, while developing the F4 standard and gearing up for the future Rafale. For the new- generation fighter, we are starting the design concept phase with Airbus and preparing for the launch of a demonstrator that should make its first flight towards 2025.
In the civil sector, we plan to consolidate sales. Along with the development of the 6X, we are also studying a “Future Falcon”. We also want to further improve the efficiency of Falcon support services, drawing on the consolidation of our network of service centers following the acquisition of MRO businesses from ExecuJet and Tag Aviation.
Of course, we will be meeting these goals by leveraging our dual business model and position as a responsible enterprise. In 2018, this approach allowed us to divide earnings virtually equally between employee profit-sharing and incentive payments, dividends for our shareholders and taxes paid to the French government.