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LARA editor Mark Thomas interviewed Nicolas Bonleux, managing director and chief sales officer. This article originally featured in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of LARA magazine. To access the full digital edition, please click here.

What systems and services does Liebherr-Aerospace supply that are of most relevance to regional airlines and low-fare carriers for single-aisle and regional aircraft? And how and where is it expanding its worldwide coverage in relation to demand for its services going forward?

We supply integrated air management systems, integrated flight control and actuation systems and landing gear systems, as well as electronics such as customer services (life cycle support) that entail maintenance, repair and overhaul as well as training.

We are expanding by organic and continuous growth, always near to our customers. The Asia-Pacific region is certainly an area that captures a large part of our attention in this regard. While our worldwide network is well established, we are permanently reviewing our worldwide footprint to make sure we adapt it to the development of the market.

Liebherr-Aerospace has a new facility in Canada that it recently opened. What is the facility for, and what opportunities does it open up for the company in the region?

Our 1,400-square metre (15,000 ft2) facility in Laval, Quebec will contribute to reinforcing our relationship with Bombardier for all their future aircraft programmes. The site accommodates the final assembly and testing of the landing gear for the Bombardier C Series aircraft, enabling us to manage just-in-time deliveries directly to the aircraft assembly line in Mirabel, approximately 35 km away. In addition, it increases our footprint in the greater
Montreal area, which is a major worldwide aerospace centre of excellence.

The company has invested €6.5 million in extending its facility at Campsas near Toulouse, France for air management systems. Tell us more about the site, and what the extension has enabled the company to install in terms of state-of-the-art machinery – 3D printing, for example – and how this has benefited its production capacity.

This investment (extending the site by 3,300 square metres and installing production equipment) enabled us to fully deploy the ‘industry 4.0’ concept across our centre of excellence for air
management systems with initiatives such as paperless fabrication, the internet of things, new man/machine interfaces, and new modes of organisation.

This went together with the installation of 3D printing machines, the latest generation 5-axis machining centres, and robotised manufacturing lines. This investment (totalling €3 million on the new production equipment) will enable us to accommodate the ramp-ups of our aircraft manufacturer customers, while further enhancing our quality performance and industrialising highly promising new technologies – among them those that can contribute to the aviation sector reducing its CO2 footprint.

The investment will enable the company to increase its production hours by 10% in 2017.

Liebherr-Aerospace recently sealed an agreement to carry out overhaul activities at its Lindenberg facility for Flybe’s main and nose landing gear systems on its E-Jet family of regional aircraft – systems developed and manufactured by Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg. How important are agreements like this going to be for the company going forward in today’s very competitive market?

Agreements like this are very important for us and also for our customers, as we as an OEM know our products and technology best. In addition, customer service is a priority area of development of our revenues, and we are proud that operators such as Flybe award us with their trust.

What technologies or innovations does Liebherr-Aerospace see as being of most significance in the next few years? What is the company developing itself that could be of most relevance?

There are several fields of technology innovation that will be of high relevance for the next generation of aircraft that we are dedicating significant investment to.

They are mostly related to the way our air management, flight control and landing gear systems can better enable more electrical aircraft types, higher efficiency electronics and materials, as well as the health management of our on-board systems and to enhanced passenger and crew comfort.

Neil McGuinness, Air BP’s global offer development manager, talks about the company’s commercial jet biofuel solution and how it is helping the global aviation sector on its journey towards a low-carbon future.

Air BP has made some encouraging announcements about the availability of commercial jet biofuel in Norway and Sweden. How does the company envisage the pace of adoption globally of jet biofuel by the commercial aviation sector?

Jet biofuel is a key part of our environmental solutions offer and we are delighted with our recent announcements that Air BP biojet is now available at Bergen Airport in Norway and Halmstad Airport in Sweden. This follows our announcement last year, which was an industry first, when together with Avinor we made Air BP biojet available to airlines at Oslo Airport through the existing hydrant system. The pace of adoption of biojet is currently restricted by its limited availability, which is why we have entered into a strategic partnership with Fulcrum BioEnergy, a company that is well advanced in its goal to produce and supply scalable jet biofuel.

BP’s decision late last year to invest $30 million in jet biofuel supplier Fulcrum BioEnergy was a real statement of intent for biofuel in North America. Can you give more insight into the strategic partnership you have entered into with them?

Our strategic partnership with Fulcrum BioEnergy was ground-breaking for both Air BP and for the industry, in that we are investing, alongside airlines, to be able to bring jet biofuel at scale to market. It’s another important first step. We have secured a 10-year offtake agreement with Fulcrum for 50 million US gallons per year from its North American development programme. We will distribute and supply biojet into aircraft at key hubs in North America. We invested in Fulcrum to secure supply of jet biofuel for our customers to help them meet their lower carbon goals.

Can you give more insight into the achievement last year of carbon neutrality for into-plane fuelling operations at Air BP’s 250 global airport operations? How was this certification achieved, and what does it mean for the airports?

We were the first aviation fuel supplier to achieve carbon neutrality for our into-plane fuelling services across an international network of over 250 Air BP-operated facilities in October 2016. It was quite the achievement following an intensive two-year process. It was assured by the independent sustainability specialist company ERM CVS Ltd.

Carbon credits were purchased and retired, with the support of BP Target Neutral, which invests in low-carbon development projects around the world to offset the emissions.

We have also made a 10-year commitment to retaining the accreditation through adhering to a carbon reduction plan. The plan targets a 5% reduction in carbon emissions for Air BP over that 10-year period using several initiatives. These include driving efficiency in technologies such as start/stop technology on vehicles; improving operational efficiency of waste management and stock management; maximising the options for supplying biofuel; and introducing initiatives on which to develop a lower carbon future. Residual emissions, following these reductions, will be offset through BP Target Neutral.

What are the main challenges or obstacles in the way of increasing the supply of commercial jet biofuel?

At Air BP, we are supporting our customers with their aspirations to achieve their carbon goals. It is early days for the industry. The production of jet biofuel is still limited and higher penetration levels require customer demand, potentially driven by consumer-led initiatives, pricing support,  regulatory support, and yet unknown breakthroughs in technology. BP supports changes in policy that bring governmental support, allowing biojet to be on an equal footing with other biofuels such as renewable diesel.

The aviation industry’s push for a lowcarbon future to meet IATA’s aim of carbon neutral growth by 2020 – and a longer-term target to cut the industry’s carbon emissions in half by 2050 – is ambitious. How is Air BP helping to make this happen?

We are supportive of the aviation industry trying to achieve its ambitious environmental targets with innovative solutions. We are providing capabilities and knowledge to help our customers including airlines, airports and general aviation operators try and achieve their carbon goals.

Last May we launched our environmental solutions offer at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva. The offer, which works across both the commercial and general business aviation sectors, helps customers to achieve their carbon goals through a ‘reduce, replace and neutralise’ management approach. The key elements are focused on the production of lower carbon fuels, for example biojet; supporting lower carbon operations; and carbon offsetting through BP Target Neutral, through which we provide a voluntary market-based mechanism to offset carbon emissions. In short, it gives our customers the tools to help reduce their carbon footprint while improving efficiency, which is good for the environment and good for business too.

Karine Guenan, ATR’s vice-president of customer and structured finance, gives an insight into its launch of a new ‘one-stop shop’ leasing, asset and freighter solutions division that she now leads.

Please give the background to ATR’s decision to create its new leasing, asset management and freighter department. Why has this been done?

Lessors and leasing solutions providers are key players in our market segment and we want to make their process of placing aircraft as smooth as possible. They are a different type of customer to airlines. This integrated new department has been created to ensure a consistent and co-ordinated worldwide approach from ATR in the relationship with its lessors. Creating this department is simply the most effective and efficient way of managing this activity. Effective asset management is important in ensuring the liquidity of our products, and freighter activities are another aspect of this process that needs to be considered.

What will its main functions be with regards to the key leasing players and the placement of new and used ATRs by them?

We needed a consistent approach to dealing with our customers in the leasing community. This department will be responsible for leading sales to the leasing community and facilitating the placement of their aircraft. The effective placement and asset management of ATR aircraft, in terms of fleet management, transitions and conversions will have a positive effect on business, maintaining the best possible liquidity for our products. In the challenging environment of the regional aviation market, airlines can often face capital limitations which can impact on their activity, in terms of buying and operating aircraft. This department will support operators, improving the liquidity of their aircraft.

Previously lessors might have dealt with several different ATR sales representatives for particular geographical areas, depending on their location in terms of their activities in both buying and placing aircraft. Lessors are a particularly distinct type of customer. By creating a ‘one-stop shop’, ATR is ensuring lessors receive a consistent, co-ordinated response which takes into account their specific needs, and it will make it easier to do business with them and support their activities.

Please give more detail on the planned delivery of associated services solutions to third-party leasing companies, brokers, integrators, financiers and investors.

We can use our market acumen to support their activities. ATR’s knowledge as a manufacturer allows us to connect stakeholders who may be able to benefit from working together. We naturally have a global overview of the aircraft requirements of the various interested parties and this allows us to make and encourage connections between them that will facilitate business, which is mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

How will this initiative further improve the already-impressive performance of ATR’s assets in the market?

This department will optimise the quick flow and turnaround of ATR’s aircraft, highlighting the quality, value retention and performance of our products.

Supporting lessors to place their aircraft is one of the most effective ways to encourage them to buy more aircraft. Naturally the quality of our products makes them attractive to a variety of regional operators. In today’s market, whether operators are interested in obtaining previous generation aircraft or need to manage the transition of their existing assets in order to obtain new
aircraft, ATR can support these activities. Naturally, we believe this will have a positive effect, allowing operators to simply focus their activities and capital on buying new aircraft.

This move by ATR appears to be part of a wider trend within the industry for manufacturers to provide more responsive customer-focused services, and improved integrated solutions. Do you see this as a general trend that will continue over the next few years?

In terms of whether this trend within the industry will continue, of course we can only speak for ourselves. ATR’s commitment to our customers and operators is certainly at the heart of the way we would like to operate and is an aspect of our business that we only see strengthening and deepening in the future. We understand the needs of our customers and operators and improving efficiency throughout our business with innovative solutions is beneficial to everyone.

Martin Lidgard, founder and CEO of Web Manuals, gives details on the development of the company’s wide-ranging portfolio of services to the airline market.

What is Web Manuals, and what are the main benefits for a regional/low-fare airline or an MRO operator in digitising its aviation documents for its personnel?

Web Manuals is a cloud-based application that enables the simple writing, revising, publishing, distribution and control of an entire suite of aviation manuals. It replaces Microsoft Word for writing while allowing cross-referencing with EASA and FAA regulations, and gives managers, auditors and regulators the ability to review and approve online.

Airlines and operators have thousands of pages of manuals covering areas such as flight operations, maintenance, quality, safety and standard operating procedures for both staff and cabin crew. Keeping these up to date requires an incredible amount of time, let alone the additional work required for creating new manuals, forms and checklists. Moving these manuals to one online platform simplifies the whole process and makes much it easier to standardise operational documentation.

Efficiency is a key target here. Can you give specific examples of how the solution saves time and money?

Most of our customers report instant reductions in the time needed to keep manuals up to date and compliant. Making revisions using Word, or whichever other platform a customer was using previously, would involve lots of sending files back and forth between various stakeholders in a company. Using the Web Manuals application means manual editors can make their own amendments with the guarantee that the control of the manual is accurate, reducing the risk for human error and eliminating the need for constant cross-checking.

At a basic level, when using an application such as Word, a lot of time can be spent fiddling with formatting such as numbering in headers and footers, or ensuring revision numbers have been changed. Digitising the process completely removes the need for this.

Furthermore, the Web Manuals Compliance Libraries option allows customers to create live links between procedures in their manuals to individual rules in EASA and FAA regulations and aviation standards, ensuring they are immediately notified with any new regulation changes. In this way, when an EASA or FAA inspector wants to check compliance, the manual owner can simply open the compliance library and show all the references in that manual to the given regulation, removing the time spent searching through legal documents that are complex and most likely out of date.

How could the use of this software directly relate to helping an airline company grow?

When speaking to customers, I used to find it  astonishing the man-hours required simply to maintain operations documents when doing so manually. A medium-size charter airline, for example, could have operations in a few different countries, with three or four people per location involved in document editing and around 20% of their time dedicated to this task.

Using the Web Manuals application could reduce this number to a single dedicated editor, so resource savings are instantly made. This also allows the subject matter experts from each department to be directly involved in their own manuals. I’m not going to say how our clients should run their businesses, but in theory an operator could redirect these resources to allow the company to address other challenges and growth opportunities.

WOW air is one of Web Manuals’ fastest-growing customers – to what extent is WOW air using the application and how has its experience been so far?

We have had an extremely positive response from WOW air, with over 1,000 users accessing the application. The company has just moved onto our most comprehensive package, Web Manuals Enterprise Edition, which we advise larger operators to use. As well as offering the same options as the standard package, such as web document authoring, publishing and distribution, the Enterprise Edition will also give WOW air access to functionalities suitable for larger organisations such as Active Directory user account synchronisation and our API server to allow integration with EFB providers and other systems.

How do you see the ongoing digitisation of the aviation sector evolving over the next five years? How far can advances in software like Web Manuals go in enabling airlines to further reduce costs and raise their operational efficiency levels?

The aviation industry is, and will continue to be, manuals-dependent, and as numerous aviation businesses struggle to keep up with the ever-accelerating changes to regulatory requirements, the digitisation of our sector will only continue. I think the barrier for most people is fully understanding the importance of how digitisation enables them to be more agile and quick to respond to changes. As competition between operators becomes even fiercer, the survivors will be those who are able to adapt quickly to new regulatory, operational and technical opportunities. It’s a matter of digitise and succeed, or don’t – and fail.