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French Aerospace Industry Tackling Effects of COVID-19

Dassault CEO Illustrates Issues and Progress

On 23 July Eric Trappier – CEO of Dassault Aviation and Chairman of GIFAS, the French aerospace industry association – gave his perspective on recent events and immediate prospects. The COVID-19 crisis has had a profound impact on the industry and “the whole supply chain is under pressure,” in Trappier’s words.

Dassault, for example, has put a hold on many production activities. Closing assembly lines on 18 March and not reopening until 8 June and then for flight test activities only. Some 9% of staff remained in the office, 44-50% worked from home after delivery of 1,100 laptops enabling some 1,500 video conference calls per day. Overall, activities have been maintained where possible, though at a slower pace. A specific case in point – the Future Combat Air System (SCAF/FCAS) programme slowed down, with the trinational team being scaled down in line with distancing guidelines. Dassault is confident the programme will recover – but the impact of the pandemic on the national industry is not so benign.

Trappier described the situation as critical. “Business aviation is recovering, but is far from full normalisation, still,” he stated, going on to point out that at least ten small companies in the supply chain risk utter failure and are being kept viable at the moment only through state social protection. The principal problem is the unpredictability that does not allow for effective planning. “Our experts [estimate] the crisis could last between six months and two years,” he revealed, adding that GIFAS is negotiating extension of social protection measures with the government. The organization also seeks to mobilize as much a €1 billion to sustain and relaunch the sector, of which €200 million will be pledged by industry and €200 million as state subsidies, to be used to trigger a further €600 million from private investors.

An underlying motivation is to support companies in the short term while allowing them to use this period to focus on the so-called ‘ecologic transition’ towards greener aviation. “This crisis will end […] sooner or later. For that time, we have to prepare to be competitive in order not to lose – but with the desiderata of consolidating – our position at the global level,” Trappier stated. Dassault’s commitment in this regard is clear, as the company has not reduced R&D funding despite the decline in revenue. The company also hopes the crisis in the civil sector may be partially offset by a robust defence sector. “Most small and medium enterprises working with Dassault are involved in both the RAFALE and FALCON programmes. We are currently negotiating with the government the purchase of an additional batch of RAFALEs to sustain the supply chain and compensate for the fall in production and spare parts demand in the civil sector.”

Not all companies are in so fortunate a position, however, and GIFAS hopes to lend a hand with its investment plan, allowing the greatest possible number of companies in the French supply chain to survive the crisis and even to innovate, with a view to a vigorous relaunch when the time comes.

Marco Giulio Barone in Paris for MON

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