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Opinion: Wacky Taxis Mask Airbus’ Conventional Intent

Evaluating the direction of Airbus' technological innovations--flying car or aircraft?

Last summer Airbus promoted a former Google executive with virtually no professional experience in commercial aviation to chief technology officer.

Since then the influence of Paul Eremenko has been felt through the release of various futuristic concepts bearing the Airbus badge.

These include a flying car and an autonomous air taxi for which a prototype is planned before the end of the year.

“We are operating in a fast-changing environment where speed, data, breakthrough technologies and connectivity are hugely relevant trends for the future of the aerospace industry,” said Tom Enders, Airbus CEO, at the time of Eremenko’s appointment.

Eye-catching as some of those technologies are, far more important is the use of data in Airbus’ operations--its ultimate goal being to rapidly accelerate the development of new--but still relatively conventional--aircraft.

Alongside improvements to clean-sheet and re-engined designs, Airbus hopes that Eremenko can speed up how quickly it responds to technical issues.

“It appals me that when we have a problem on the A320 [aircraft] we say we will have a solution in 18 months,” an anonymous Airbus executive told the Financial Times recently.

Then there are the reams of data--up to 1TB per flight--generated by the scores of airframe, avionic and engine sensors installed on modern aircraft. Only a tiny fraction of this gets analyzed, but the operational, technical and maintenance insights offered by the remainder are huge.

Nonetheless, the power invested in the 36-year-old Eremenko – technological wunderkind though he may be--has raised eyebrows, with Airbus engineers reportedly exasperated at schemes such as a modular cabin that could incorporate gyms and restaurants.

There is also a fear that excessive blue-sky thinking could hollow out Airbus’ core competence in the design of conventional airframes.

It does seem improbable, however, that Airbus would bet the house on a flying car.

TAGS: Big Data
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