Paul Kahn is the President of Airbus Group UK and was recently named President of trade body ADS (Airbus Group).

SIMON LEVY talks to PAUL KAHN, President of Airbus Group UK on the recent SDSR, engineering skills gap and the effect of any Brexit on his company's business.

1. What got you into aerospace in the first place?

It was really a progression from bicycles as a teenager, to cars as a student, to planes as an engineer. Working on flight control systems, as a graduate trainee, in the Eurofighter Typhoon MoD project team was fascinating!

Airbus' Zephyr UAV is a record-breaking drone developed in the UK. (Airbus)

2. Now that SDSR15 has been published, are you happy with it and what opportunities do you see for Airbus Group in the UK?

We were delighted that the importance of high altitude surveillance, like our Zephyr HAPS, was recognised in the report, and highlighted by the Prime Minister as an example of British innovation. As the largest partner in the Eurofighter consortium we are also pleased with the decision to extend the life of the Typhoon. Furthermore, we welcome the increased spending on cyber security, where our Newport based Cyber business is a vital capability for the UK.

Whilst we were obviously disappointed with the Government’s decision regarding maritime patrol aircraft, we welcome the overall uplift in defence spending.

As a company, we are looking forward to continuing to support our customers and deliver innovative world-leading products and services, which ensure Britain’s armed forces remain among the best equipped in the world.”

3. In defence procurement - how does one address the balance between 'off the shelf' and protecting the UK industrial base?

Airbus Helicopters has successfully delivered the Puma 2 upgrade to the RAF. (RAF)

I think that to strike this balance, from industry there needs to be a focus on the customer and their needs, to deliver products and capabilities in line with their requirements. From the customer there needs to be a consideration of the need to preserve our national freedom to act and capability in a time of crisis, as well as the importance of strategic exports to sustain a competitive industry in Britain

4. What effect would Brexit have on your business?

Any effects of the Brexit on the UK are likely to be long-term and not easily undone, particularly in engineering given the length of our product cycles and investment plans.

The success of Airbus Group’s operations in the UK depends on European industrial organisation and integration. If the UK exits the EU, there are likely to be significant changes to the regulatory and economic environment with subsequent impacts on our competitiveness. Though Airbus Group remains fully committed to its operations in the UK and to its employees here, we certainly hope the UK will choose to retain its EU membership which will help to ensure the continued long-term success of Airbus Group’s European industrial model.


5. Where do you see the greatest area of growth for Airbus Group in the UK? (UAVs, cyber, Helicopters, civil?)

Airbus in the UK is also involved in space missions (Airbus Group).

At Airbus Group we are in the fortunate positon where we see growth potential across all our business areas.

Improving our commercial aircraft requires significant work on the wings and landing gear, as well as fuel systems for new, improved engines. Additionally, ramping up production is a key challenge, as currently on our most popular aircraft demand is ahead of production rates.

Exploring space is growing with new ESA missions, and for helicopters we do see the UK as very much a home market, where our investment is increasing along with our successful deliveries, like the Puma 2 programme for the MoD.

6. R&D has been neglected in the UK in the past - are you now confident that ATI will pull through technology for your future needs?

Airbus Group spends around £500m annually on UK R&D, and we are very positive about the impact the ATI has on research in this country.

The AGP and ATI are examples of industrial approach which Airbus Group holds up as best practice around the world, and we are pleased that the British Government recognise this. These initiatives will help to ensure that aerospace will continue to play a leading role in Britain’s continued economic security and prosperity

7. Is there an engineering skills gap in the UK? What can be done about this?

Airbus provides great oportunities for UK graduates and apprentices - but will fresh blood keep up with the demand for skilled workers? (Airbus)  

Although Airbus Group is able to attract highly skilled engineers, there is undoubtedly an engineering skills gap developing in the industry more broadly; the Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that UK will require a million new engineers and technicians over the next five years.

In order to address this skills gap industry, government, professional associations and all other stakeholders need to work together to encourage more boys and girls to pursue a career in engineering and other STEM subjects.

We recently graduated our first class of Higher Apprentices, who combined a traditional apprenticeship with a degree, in both North Wales and Bristol. So it is now possible to come and work for Airbus straight from school and over three or four years learn through an integrated training programme of practical experience, college training and university education; gaining a great start to a professional aerospace career.

8. If the A380neo is launched in the future- will Airbus seek launch aid from the UK Government?

The A380 still has 'untapped potential', says Kahn (Rolls-Royce)

Whilst we place tremendous value on the support of the British Government, no decision has been made regarding the possibility of an A380neo. Passengers love travelling on the current generation A380, they go out of their way to fly It and we still have untapped potential to further increase the A380s efficiency (which is already the best) such as through further cabin innovations and enablers.

There is no fixed timeline and there is no hurry for when we’d make a decision regarding evolving the A380. Any A380 evolution would be based on a sound business case

9. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Airbus Group in the UK?

Delivering the A400M has proved a challenge.

2016 looks set to be another excellent year for Airbus Group. That said, over the next twelve months I think our biggest challenges will be delivering on the ramp up of A320neo and A350 production, the on-going delivery of A400M into service with the RAF and continuing to excel in the UK helicopter market.

10. And finally, what do you do outside of work to relax?

Outside of the office, I’m very much a man of the outdoors. Whether skiing in the winter or hiking and kayaking in the summer, there’s no place I’d rather be than in the mountains enjoying the outdoor air; although I am more frequently found to be out running in the British weather given the lack of mountains and snow in the South East of England.

19 January 2016