That customers are frustrated with the slow pace of change within the aerospace industry is little surprise. That the boss of Airbus will bemoan the industry’s lethargy is a different matter.

“Somewhere in the last 40 years we learned to save fuel and forgot how to take risks and manage them properly. We forgot how to turn our ideas into reality before they were out of date,” Airbus CEO Tom Enders argued in a speech before the SAE Aerospace Conference today in Toulouse.

“We need to get back to our edge,” he insists, if the industry really wants to innovate. That includes several steps, he suggests, including shorter development and certification timelines. “Customers will not keep accepting lead times of 8 to 10 years. They face pressures now.”

One example, he says, is the introduction of the Apple iPad. “According to United Airlines, the iPad can save them 16 million sheets of paper and over 300,000 gallons of fuel a year. So why would airlines wait a decade for us to integrate them?”

To affect the change, Enders argues not just prime contracts have to change their approach, but suppliers too. What is more, he says, it requires recruiting the right personnel.

For Enders, the issue is not just a matter of bringing about new technology, it is also about sound financial management. “Our inability to master innovation is undermining the confidence of investors, shareholders and customers,” he says, referring to the long and costly delays associated with new programs.

The key will be to balance a drive for innovation, coupled with the use of existing technologies and processes, he suggests.