Leading Airbus China: Race Against Boeing

Former Chairman and President at Airbus China

Why is this interview interesting?

  • Outlook on domestic and international travel demand
  • Strategic options for airlines and lessors during crisis
  • Impact on Airbus and Boeing cutting production post-crisis
  • How the A320 gained market share versus 737 in the last 20 years
  • Biggest lessons from running Airbus China

Executive Bio

Laurence Barron

Former Chairman and President at Airbus China

Laurence was the President and Chairman of Airbus China from 2004 - 2017 where he led the business to grow from producing 40 to over 160 aircraft per year and grew revenue to over €20bn in China. He joined Airbus in 1982 in aircraft finance where he ran customer finance for 10 years and then asset management for a decade. Laurence spent a total of over 25 years in aircraft financing and leasing before moving to lead Airbus China. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Laurence, could provide some context to when you first joined Airbus?

I first joined Airbus in 1982. Prior to that, I was practicing law, in Tokyo. I actually started my career, as a lawyer, in Paris, in 1974. In 1978, I went to Tokyo, as a French law lawyer, but I ended up doing quite a lot of aircraft financing, which was English law, which was fine as I studied law and was called to the bar in England, in 1974. I ended up going to Tokyo and doing a lot of aircraft financing, in the period 1978 to 1982 and I enjoyed that a lot. In 1982, I moved from Tokyo to Toulouse and joined Airbus, as a lawyer, specializing in aircraft finance. About 18 months, after that, I moved to customer finance and I ran customer finance, at Airbus, for about 10 years. After that, in the mid-90s, I set up and ran the asset management department of Airbus, for 10 years. In total, for about 25 years, I was very involved in aircraft financing and leasing.

How has the leasing market evolved in the last few decades?

It’s exploded in the last 20 or so years. It’s become a major force now. Some of the customers of Airbus and Boeing are the major leasing companies and the airlines depend, very much, on leasing companies, for a large part of their fleets.

What do the lessors offer that is so attractive to the airframers and, more importantly, the airlines?

For the airlines, it’s flexibility. First of all, financially, the airline doesn’t have to commit much capital. The leasing company who has ordered aircraft is doing the investment, as it were. So there is much less cash needed, from an airline’s standpoint, in order to lease an aircraft, as compared with buying an aircraft. It’s also availability. With popular aircraft, you sometimes have to wait many years before you can get your delivery. Whereas, often, leasing companies can offer a delivery on a much nearer horizon. It’s flexibility, both in terms of financial resources and in terms of operational flexibility or operational requirements.

How do you think Covid has impacted that relationship between the airframers and the lessors?

At the end of the day, both the lessors and the airframers need operators. In other words, the airlines. Right now, of course, it’s no secret that most of the airlines are going through a very difficult period, with most of their fleet on the ground and very few passengers. It’s an extremely tough time, unprecedented, I would say, for the world’s airlines and, therefore, it’s extremely difficult for the leasing companies and the manufacturers to just continue business as usual, because their clients, their customers and operators, are in survival mode.

What are the core factors you are looking at, in how this can evolve, today?

Right now, as I said, the airlines are in survival mode, so their number one concern is to hold on to their cash resources. Obviously, they have little or no income or revenue, at the moment, so they’re looking to minimize their outgoings, their expenditures. One area is lease rental. It’s been said that at least 80% of the operators have turned to their lessors and requested some financial support and relief, usually taking the form of rental deferrals.

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Leading Airbus China: Race Against Boeing(April 21, 2020)

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