While greeting press gathered for Airbus Innovation Days in Hamburg, Klaus Richter, Chief Procurement Officer, Airbus and Chairman of the Board for Airbus Germany, caught our attention when highlighting the importance of Hamburg in the group’s plans by saying, “If there’s a new plane it will be a single aisle plane.”
Richter mentioned Hamburg’s growing development capabilities in fields of research into new materials, through the ZAL Technical Centre, and also significant in-house capabilities including for full-sized aircraft simulations. As he said, all in the interest of “shooting for a single aisle development that needs to enter the market.”
“More serious production industrial approaches will have to be integrated in an aerospace environment,” Richter added. “Additional digitalisation kicks in new possibilities and the next generation aircraft will basically have to incorporate both. To have that kind of a discussion, a research platform—now including a mini-model factory—is an excellent thing.”
Also excellent, Richter said, was the expansion of the Cabin Definition Centre at Hamburg, originally introduced for the A350 aircraft, being expanded to suit other of the company’s aircraft.
Richter also emphasised the importance of 3D printing—one of the technical capabilities being researched closely at Hamburg’s ZAL Technical Centre. Richter described 3D as “extremely hot for commercial aviation,” including for the “local production of spares,” and especially because of the “weight advantage of 3D printed parts.”
All of these projects are important to aerospace in general. But given the airline’s market reach and the popularity of the A320 family aircraft, Richter’s mention of the new single aisle aircraft at the beginning of his presentation, and other mentions throughout, raised questions whether Airbus aimed to fill an existing gap in the Middle of the Market (MOM) with a single aisle plane, or perhaps step into the small-planes race to compete with Bombardier or Embraer.
Though he was the one who brought the matter up—no doubt a calculated move given the crowd of over 130 international aviation journalists he addressed—Richter was a bit coy when I approached him directly to ask what he meant.
“For the time being we enjoy the advantage of having a plane that is slightly bigger. What the market asks us to do as the next design is not easy to predict,” he said. “I would not be in a position to answer technically. To go significantly larger is a real leap of faith, because you’re designing between one or two aisles and that’s a fundamental decision to make. I will not be able to predict what direction it will go. Don’t forget that we have 5,000 planes on order so it will take a while before we get to a point when we have to decide anything.”
I pushed, pointing out that aircraft development plans have a long timeline and the company must already have some idea, or he wouldn’t have brought it up.
“I think you’ll probably see a couple of research topics into that. And I think the next two or three years maybe will be very intensive to find the plane the market needs. It probably has as much to do with Seattle as with us. It’s exciting times for both of us,” Richter said. “I think everybody agrees that narrow-body will be at the centre of the market also for the future.”