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

March 2023

What was the most exciting development for Dassault Aviation in 2022?

2022 will go down as a record year for Dassault in terms of new orders: an all-time high of 21 billion euros. This figure represents 64 Falcons and 92 Rafales, 80 of which were ordered by the United Arab Emirates, in what is the largest contract ever secured by Dassault Aviation. Our order book now stands at 35 billion euros, another all-time high, which amounts to a total of 251 aircraft: 87 Falcons and 164 Rafales. This means we can plan ahead for the next 10 years, which is a rare and enviable outlook in the aviation industry. We will be manufacturing 35 Falcons and 15 Rafales in 2023. This may seem like a low figure, considering the magnitude of the orders mentioned above, but it is important to remember that, on account of the production cycle, it takes at least three years from the time a contract comes into effect until the first aircraft are delivered. The Rafales scheduled for delivery between 2023 and 2025 are mainly intended to fill an order placed in 2009 and staggered over time by the French government for budgetary reasons. Thereafter, we are aiming for a production rate of three aircraft per month. To achieve this ramp-up, we are actively recruiting new employees, on top of the 1,560 we hired in 2022. We are also working to secure our industrial ecosystem in the face of the fallout from the war in Ukraine: issues such as energy, raw materials, components and inflation are affecting a supply chain that was already under pressure due to the Covid crisis.

How do you explain the fact that the Rafale has added seven new export markets in the past seven years?

The Rafale’s time has come. The figures speak for themselves: the total number of orders placed since the program began is 453 — 477 if you include the pre-owned fighters purchased by Greece and Croatia. Our export rate has reached 60%, which is better than the Mirage 2000 (50%) and not far behind the Mirage F1 (66%), which was typical of fighter export ratios during the Cold War. And we’re not done yet: many countries are in talks with us. We also expect to receive an order from the French government for a further batch of 42 fighters by the end of 2023, as provided for in the current French military spending bill.

The Rafale is a multirole fighter, capable of carrying one-and-a-half times its empty weight in fuel and weaponry, but it is also a very reasonable aircraft in terms of size and cost; a combat-proven fighter; a system designed to be operated from land bases as well as aircraft carriers; and a fighter jet that is 100% French, but fully interoperable with other Western systems.

What is happening in terms of civil aviation?

As far as business aviation is concerned, we have had to deal with cancellations by Russian customers, as well as a number of support issues and supply chain problems. As a result, our 2022 deliveries are slightly under target. On the other hand, sales have made good progress, with 64 aircraft sold, up from 51 in 2021. The Falcon 6X is scheduled to be certified and to enter into service in 2023. As for the Falcon 10X, our future flagship, its development still has several years to go. These two business jets make us really upbeat about the future. They address our current customers’ needs and are sure to attract new prospective clients. They are backed by the extensive experience of our design office, our dual civil-military expertise and our leadership position with respect to digital technology.

Alongside these commercial and industrial challenges, we are also continuing our efforts to achieve “net zero” by 2050. We are pursuing optimization across the board, whether it be in the area of aerodynamics, materials, engines or navigational aids. In the short term, the most promising development involves Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which offers a reduction of carbon emissions in the range of 80% to 90% compared with conventional jet fuel. All Falcon jets are now certified to use blends containing up to 50% SAF. Our aim is to be using 100% SAF blends by the time the Falcon 10X enters into service. Business aviation is at the cutting edge when it comes to this low-carbon solution because our customers, mainly companies, can afford to use SAF despite the additional cost.

We are making all these efforts in spite of the fact that our industry emits very little CO2: the annual emissions from the 2,100 Falcons in service are equivalent to the emissions produced by a day’s worth of video streaming worldwide! But we need to do our part to address this challenge, and we have no doubt that we’ll succeed in doing so. The aeronautics industry thrives on complexity, and knows how to deal with it. Because it is exposed to extraordinary pressures, it is by its very nature a dynamic business. It has been constantly reinventing itself for over a century, continually re-examining itself and always finding groundbreaking solutions through technological progress.

Lastly, we are modernizing our facilities to gear them up for the future, while at the same time redoubling our CSR and energy efficiency efforts.