In civil aviation, “innovation is still incremental and not disruptive,” but market entry in aerospace has been disrupted, said Philipp Visotschnig, CFO of Airbus China said at TechCrunch Shenzhen 2019.
The space industry has been disrupted and private access to space is possible, which was long considered impossible, he said. Elon Musk’s SpaceX approached rockets differently in terms of vertical integration and managed to use software to reuse the rocket, he said.
But commercial and cargo airplanes remain relatively unchanged in the era of innovation. “The cycle of aviation is relatively low in aerospace” as it takes around 7 years to develop an aircraft and typically fuel consumption must be reduced by 15% for a new model, he said.
Startups usually deal with simpler and shorter regulatory approvals and so far innovation has happened around customer experience and aircraft connectivity, he said. Interesting projects are developing around 5G and connectivity, as well as digital tools that help companies interface with passengers, Visotschnig said.
A trend in aviation is using digitalization and AI to analyze big data related to aircraft maintenance, he said. “We need to make sure that it [the aircraft] is flying for the next thirty years. Having all this data is helpful,” he said. Logistics and fleet support are two areas where Airbus is looking for partnerships.
The industry needs to adopt a “far more open” approach in order to integrate new technologies into its offerings, he said. Airbus is partnering with startups at its Innovation Centre in Shenzhen, opened in 2017, where it is developing vertical lift, battery, electrification, and customer experience solutions, Visotschnig said.
Airbus is also setting up a model to commercialise flying taxis in China in two to three years, he said. The European aviation company has launched a fleet of helicopters to hire in Sao Paulo in Brazil, through its local subsidiary Voom.