July 09, 2012
Conventional wisdom at this year’s Farnborough air show is that the commercial side of the aerospace industry is just gaining steam for a sustained upturn. But Clay Jones is not so sure.
The chairman and CEO of avionics supplier Rockwell Collins acknowledges that order books at Boeing and Airbus are huge, and growing. But he worries that economic jitters in the U.S. and Europe and slowing growth in Asia could combine to wallop other segments of the industry, such as business jets, airlines and the aftermarket.
“Get me into 2015 and I’m going to feel fine,” Jones says in an interview with Aviation Week editors. “But I think the next couple of years are going to be really tough.”
The Rockwell Collins chief learned the hard way not to underestimate broad economic trends. At the Farnborough air show in 2008, he fumed that the company’s stock price was plummeting despite rising profits and double-digit sales gains. It turned out that investors were a step ahead of him. “We ignored what was happening over in the credit and housing markets,” Jones recalls. “And two years later we lost 25% of our commercial business, most of it in the bizjet world, where production was cut in half.”
Jones believes the global economy will continue to sputter through the next two years as companies hold back on investing while they wait out the budget crisis in the U.S. and financial crisis in Europe. “People are concerned about what’s happening tomorrow and they don’t want to be caught with their bucket empty,” he says.
That includes aerospace, where business challenges will be exacerbated by likely declines in defense budgets in 2013 and 2014. Beyond that, though, Jones sees a lot of prosperity as defense budgets bottom out and production ramps up on a wide array of next-generation aircraft such as the Boeing 787, Airbus’ A350, Bombardier’s CSeries and an array of new regional and business jets. “When you look at 2015, that’s the sweet spot,” he says. “There’s going to be a lot of new equipment out there that is going to benefit all of us.”