September 12, 2023
Phil Le Beau
Auto and Airline Industry Reporter, CNBC
As the aviation industry recovers to pre-pandemic levels, innovations are needed to keep up with traveler demand while looking toward a more sustainable future. During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Global Aerospace Summit, Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus, shared his insights on the current state and future of the aviation industry.
Consumer Demand for Flights Continues to Increase, While Supply Stays Stagnant
“The market in terms of flight [traffic] has really recovered compared to 2019,” said Faury. “There's probably more demand than supply for flight tickets.”
Faury further elaborated upon the huge gap between demand and supply – he cited that in 2019, Airbus delivered 863 planes, while in 2022, the company delivered 661. Airbus’ 2022 target was 720 planes.
“We think we'll close the gap by 2025 or 2026,” added Faury. “But a lot of things are in flux and keep moving, so we have to be prudent when it comes to forecasting the future.”
Leasing aircraft, both short- and long-term, helped Airbus meet its demand in the past and could be a potential solution. The process allows airlines to operate aircraft without financial burden and provides a temporary increase in capacity.
“I think the lessors have been extremely critical to success,” said Faury. “A lot of planes that were delivered [during the pandemic] were financed by lessors, so this needs to be recognized.”
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Can Help Decarbonize the Aviation Industry
According to Faury, Airbus is “very committed to [the] decarbonization of aviation.” In support of this, the company is supporting the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
“[We need] planes that can burn less fuel, and over time burn 100 percent of SAF instead of jet fuel,” he explained. “SAF is absolutely critical to the success of decarbonization.”
Alongside global partners in the aviation industry, such as Digifuel, Airbus has started to catalyze, enable, and support the ecosystem that accelerates the production and use of SAF.
“The aim is to produce half a million liters of SAF by 2026,” said Faury. “That would reduce the emission of carbon by 1.5 million tons of carbon a year. And the aim, as we see it, is to try to be as close as possible [to] 10 percent of use of SAF in this industry by 2030.”
The Recent Rise in Long-Haul International Travel Poses New Challenges
Faury cited that long-haul international travel to and from Asia is beginning to increase. The commercial airline industry has surpassed 2019 pre-pandemic levels in single-aisle plane travel and is nearly back on white-body, or twin-aisle, planes used for international travel.
“There’s a big question mark around… To what extent the international tensions, and especially between China and U.S., will undermine the recovery of the wide body activity to and from China,” Faury said.
The inability to use Russian airspace is also a significant roadblock for airlines as they increase capacity for long-haul international flights.
“Now post Ukraine, there are restrictions and [shared airspace] is no longer a common good,” explained Faury. “This has consequences on [airline] competitiveness and it's no longer a level playing field.”
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