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Airbus CEO on Innovation: Damned if you do…

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For Airbus CEO Tom Enders, innovation has been a somewhat fraught topic, caught between engineers wanting to push technology and shareholders wanting minimum-risk returns on investment.

“You have mixed feelings when it comes to innovation. It can be a double edged sword,” he says during Airbus’s own Innovation Days, an annual event where the company showcases to the press where it is going.

“If you are too risk averse, you are overtaken and are dead. If you are too much of a risk taker, you are dead and the competition overtakes you,” Enders muses. “You are walking a tightrope.”

So for Enders the key is trying to reduce risk early on to try to have on-hand more mature technologies when they are to be embedded into a product. Thus, work on the A30X – the future A320 replacement – continues even as the company focuses on birthing the A320NEO.

Just how difficult technology selections can be was brought home to Enders with the recent A380 wing cracking. The selection of the aluminum alloy that has now been found wanting, seemed like a smart move when the material selection was made. It offered lots of weight savings potential (at a time the A380 needed to lose weight) with little downside. “We found out the hard way we didn’t know everything.”

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