Read the full interview at inpractise.com
We interviewed the former Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Airbus on the potential impact of coronavirus on consumer behaviour and the wider industry.
In the full interview we explore:
- Outlook on travel demand for both leisure and business travellers
- Potential aircraft order deferrals and cancellations of the MAX
- Founding story of Airbus and MBDA
- Lessons from the MAX crisis and strategic options available to Boeing
- Launching the A320neo to compete with 737
The worst case is never certain. When, a few years ago, we were studying with Laurence, amongst others, it would be on the threats on the aviation industry and Airbus. A typical framework for analyzing threats is that you look at geopolitical or geoeconomical scenarios and then you will see the impact on your industry. For instance, we were talking about war, in the Middle East, a large recession in China, due to health problems. We were talking about a big recession, in North America, due to a financial crisis. We studied those scenarios, one by one and said, okay, here the impact would be 5% on the overall industry; it would be important on the A380; it would not affect this type of aviation. We always concluded those studies by saying, yes, the assumption here is that we have this crisis alone, and we don't have a combination of issues. We have never taken, as an assumption, that there would be something that would affect the world, as a whole.
So the worst is never certain, but sometimes it happens.
A Black Swan.
Yes. What happens here is that, for the first time since 1945, the world economy is at a stop. We are left with one question – how will the survivors restart? This question is a double question. First, when we say survivors, how do we survive? Second, how do we resume activity? How do we restart? How do we regenerate business, growth, activity and what will the world look like tomorrow, after Covid?
Maybe I can narrow that down for aviation, for my sector of activity, where I have spent a lot of time. It is clear that we will not travel in 2024 like we used to travel in 2014. The travel will be of a different kind. Obviously, we will need to revisit how we organize our airports, how we organize the seating in the planes. All these distancing measures will have an impact on the way we do travel. I read a comment by the CEO of IATA, the association of airlines, yesterday or the day before, saying, the era of cheap travel tickets is over.
What is behind that? You have to realize that, up to now, in the planes of all airlines around the planet, you had two types of customers. You had the, call it the leisure customer, and you had the high-yield customer. The high-yield customer is a customer who is paying the price to travel. The airlines were making their money on this high-yield customer. Why is this customer paying a price with margin, above the cost? Because he's travelling, not for leisure, but for necessity. What has developed the volume in the airline industry is the customer who travels for leisure and not the customer who travels for necessity.
I'm not saying that tomorrow we will no longer have people who travel for leisure, but we will have less people travelling for leisure. The impact of that is going to be massive on the long-range travel. Firstly, because you have many more people travelling to visit exotic places on long-range. But it will also impact the domestic travel. It will not affect the shuttles between, say, London and Paris or Washington and New York, because this is mainly business, mainly necessity. But you will have much fewer people flying from, say, Paris to Nice or Washington to Denver.
That's mainly because of the price or also, because of the behavior?
It's a behavioral change. The people who travel will, even more than before, travel for necessity. They will pay the price, but you will have less people in the planes. This is how I foresee it. There is nothing more difficult to predict than the future, but it seems to make sense to me, at least in the medium term. We may recover, but the recovery will be long.
If we translate that into figures, I believe that, in the best case, for short-range, such as commuting, we should be back to the levels of 2019, somewhere in 2024/2025. Best case. The worst case, in my view, would be 20% less, by that timeframe and, beyond that, it's too long for me to consider. It gives a view on how this industry should be shaped, or reshaped. If you take that as an assumption and take it down airline by airline, OEM by OEM, supplier by supplier, you can easily predict what is going to happen.
In a sense, this should not be seen as a surprise. What is the main characteristic of this industry? The main characteristic of this industry is that, except for sudden disruptions, like Covid, evolution is always slow. When you have no disruption, if it goes up, it goes up slowly, but steadily. Then poof, and then again, it goes up. My analysis is that mankind will continue to travel and mankind will continue to fly to travel, but from a behavioral standpoint, the impact on commuting is going to be the one I described. It's more difficult to predict for long-range, going from one continent to another or crossing the oceans. I think, there, the reduction will be much bigger. In my view, in the worst-case scenario, it's a 50% reduction.