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

March 2024

How would you describe the current climate in which your company is operating?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war in the Middle East underscore the fact that we are once again entering an era of turbulence and that the short-lived phase of peaceful globalization is behind us.

The consequences of this shift are being felt first and foremost by civilian populations in the effected regions.

Secondly, there are strategic implications, prompting the European Union to finally come to terms with its shortcomings in the area of defense; France, in particular, has decided to increase its military spending by 40% over the period 2024‑2030.

The repercussions are also economic, as demonstrated by recent issues relating to energy, raw materials and inflation, which have had a direct impact on us and on a supply chain which had already been compromised by the Covid crisis; on a macroeconomic level, Europe, which is currently going through a quasi‑recession, has been particularly hard hit by these developments.

In addition, the world today is beset by anxieties and challenges associated with climate change. Every aspect of human activity is being viewed through this lens. The aviation industry is no exception, and rightly so, even though its CO2 emissions account for only around 2% of total human emissions. Our industry is committed to achieving “net zero” emissions by 2050, and is focusing on technological innovation to meet this target, in keeping with its long history of achievement in this regard. However, the assessment criteria need to be scientific and not ideological, as is sometimes the case when it comes to business aviation. In this respect, the EU taxonomy of economic activities that are environmentally sustainable is misguided, which is why we have called for it to be amended. The European Union is too often in the business of imposing restrictions and taxes, whereas the United States tends to favor incentives and greater streamlining.

A host of questions are being raised. And many of these questions are going to be answered in 2024, with major elections scheduled in Europe and the United States, as well as in India.

Against this backdrop, how should the tremendous success of the Rafale in export markets be viewed?

The Rafale began to make inroads in the export market in 2015, well before the invasion of Ukraine. So far, this attack has not prompted or boosted any of our commercial deals – quite the opposite, in fact. Responsible countries arm themselves in peacetime, in order to protect the peace. In times of conflict, however, everything becomes more challenging, as can be seen from the debate currently taking place in France in relation to the “war economy.” Producing complex weapons systems takes time. Given the length of manufacturing cycles, we need to be proactive when it comes to planning or stepping up production.

The Rafale’s success stems from a combination of factors: the outstanding combat‑tested qualities of the aircraft, the loyalty of our customers (all of whom were already using Mirage 2000, with the exception of Croatia and Indonesia), the changing geopolitical landscape (a multipolar world, with American power increasingly focused on Asia), and superb teamwork across the board in France (between political, military and industrial partners). To date, a total of 495 Rafale fighters have been ordered (519 if we include pre‑owned aircraft, i.e., an export rate of 55%). And the momentum is showing no signs of slowing: we’re continuing to step up our pace of production; we’re in commercial negotiations with a number of countries; we’re developing the F4 standard, featuring advanced connectivity capabilities; and we’re preparing the F5 standard, which will include a combat drone.

Can you tell us about the outlook for the Falcon business?

In the short term, we have a number of supply chain problems to deal with. Supplier failures combined with a lack of industrial capacity, mainly with regard to aerostructures, have resulted in delays to production launches. We have made adjustments to existing organizational arrangements and put in place a centralized management system to implement corrective action plans, provide the necessary support to some of our subcontractors and expand our operations in India. We are also aiming to grow our sales. In 2023, the delay in the certification and entry into service of the Falcon 6X meant that we were unable to start using a demonstrator to showcase the aircraft until December; since the launch of this promotional campaign, the 6X’s exceptional levels of performance have met with an enthusiastic response from current and prospective customers.

In the longer term, our focus is on completing development work on the Falcon 10X. We have recalibrated the project to allow for the backlogs that built up during and after the Covid crisis. Initial deliveries of this aircraft are now scheduled for 2027. Lastly, we are pursuing our efforts in the area of decarbonization, focusing on four key priorities: Sustainable Aviation Fuel, R&T, flight operations optimization and CO₂ storage.

In light of these efforts as well as of our exceptionally healthy order book, we will need to maintain high levels of hiring: in 2023, we hired some 2,000 new employees, and we have set ourselves the same target for 2024. Dassault Aviation rates highly in all “respected employer” rankings. Our Group is an excellent place to work, whether you are an engineer, a technician or a skilled worker, whether your background is in design, production or support functions, whether you wish to work in France or overseas, or whether you are interested in the civil or military sector: we offer skilled men and women the opportunity to pursue varied and exciting careers, working together in the service of France and its aviation sector.