There was a debate within Airbus three years ago about pursuing an all-new narrowbody or the NEO. On which side were you, initially?
We never seriously considered a brand-new aircraft replacing the A320 family in 2015-17, for a simple reason. We believe the technologies are not mature enough to deliver the performance improvements that would impel the board of directors to inject €10 billion ($13.2 billion) in a new family of aircraft. We never considered a brand-new single aisle before 2020. But probably the success of the NEO now means that what we had in mind before it was launched—a new aircraft by around 2025—is shifting toward 2030. It will be very difficult with a new aircraft to be as globally competitive as an A320NEO.
A380 sales have been weak recently. Do you consider this a temporary issue until airlines have become less risk averse, or do you have deeper concerns?
We still have nearly 160 aircraft that we need to deliver. We are in a fairly comfortable situation. Your point is right, the market is soft for aircraft of this size. One reason is the level of investment and risk in an unstable environment. But this aircraft can offer a reliable solution for new customers, so the situation is a temporary one. We will be able to convince other airlines to procure A380s. We are at the very beginning of this process in China. With the growth in traffic there, they will need bigger aircraft. We expect about 200 aircraft in the Chinese market, but the big quantities will come after 2020. This aircraft will have a market potential that goes well beyond the first 260 orders on record.
Would you say the A380 came too soon for the market?
It is difficult to say. It came late compared with the commitments we made to our customers. Perhaps it was launched a bit early, but we have it. It works and it is a fantastic aircraft. Look at Emirates and how they get their market share, that is also due to the A380. The first customers have not optimized the aircraft from a cost point of view. We do not see high-density A380s. We have a lot of open space, which is nice, but it does not mean that there is any revenue attached to it. I think you can manage higher-density layouts without sacrificing customer comfort. And that helps to improve the performance of the aircraft. We are now clearly moving in this direction. We were probably a bit too exotic in its configuration in the beginning.
You mean the showers?
No, the showers are OK to attract first-class passengers or VVIPs who otherwise fly on private aircraft. That is a different type of market. But if I take economy- and even business-class, we can find ways to have 7-10 percent more passengers. If you applied the comfort standards of an A380 in a 777 or a 747-8, you would have hardly any room for passengers.
You plan to build 25 aircraft this year. How about the coming years?