Plane Talking: Crashes At Airbus, Tui And The Enduring Willie Walsh

Posted on Sep 23, 2020. by NTI

Claims that it is a small world were previously laid at the houses of airlines and the airports. You could get easily from anywhere to somewhere else with a window seat and a complimentary bag of peanuts. What a difference a year makes for Airbus. At the halfway stage of 2019 their order book stood at 7,276 commercial aircraft and, at an average of £65 million a pop, that's a big number.

If all the Airbus aircraft in service with airlines across the world were parked end-to-end ... it is probably 2020, so catastrophic has been the year so far for one of Europe's largest manufacturers. So much so that Guillaume Faury, chief executive, said yesterday (Tuesday 22 September): “The crisis is existential. Our life as a business is potentially at risk if we don’t take the right measures." I bet he wishes he had taken that job at home deliveries and distribution now.

M. Faury said, in pretty flawless French (so much so, he could be mistaken for the average British tourist in Marseille pointing at a loaf of bread in a shop she has mispronounced and shouting, "Pain, PAIN!"), that the shutdown of aviation markets meant that Airbus needed to cut a total of 15,000 jobs, or more than 11 per cent of the group’s workforce. In the UK, where we still make wings for Airbus aircraft and are pretty nifty at other bits, too, Airbus said it needed to cut 1,700 jobs, 12 per cent of its 13,500-strong workforce. It will come as no comfort to the people whose jobs are under threat that Airbus recently unveiled three concepts for a zero-emission commercial aircraft powered by hydrogen rather than jet fuel, which it says could be carrying passengers by 2035. Those being laid off will need to buy food before that time and human vision has recently been tunnelled to focus on survival in the next six months, not flying in a concept aircraft in 15 years time.

Folk in the Tui group understand their pain. The Group is cutting 8,000 jobs as part of a €300 million cost-saving programme, and is unhappy, having successfully restarted operations in mid-June, carrying 1.4 million customers. It grumbles that it had been affected by “continuous changes in travel advice by various governments across our markets”. This is mainly because the Coronavirus likes nothing more than to jump on board a plane where its potential hosts sit on its others' laps (many banging the seat of those infuriated fellow passengers sitting in front of them) and to wait until the freebie drinks come round before jumping from body-to-body.

This isn't really the fault of 'various governments', it is the way of viral epidemiology, but humans have a habit of laying blame at the feet of others and governments present very large targets. Fritz Joussen, Tui’s chief executive, called for mass testing, and governments around Europe sat up and thought; 'That's a jolly good idea. Why don't we set up some testing for a billion people travelling all over the place, the results of which can be rendered obsolete the moment a person leaves an airport, gets on a train and catches Covid-19? We'll get onto that.' Not that we should discount the input of Fritz and his team. Tui has more than 400 hotels, 18 cruise ships, 150 aircraft and 1,500 travel agencies, although it recently closed 166 of its 516 shops in Britain and Ireland. As we say, we feel their pain.

Talking of 'pains', Willie Walsh, the former chief executive of IAG (the parent company of British Airways and Aer Lingus, for a little context) has said that the quarantine rules were "irrational and disproportionate", adding that they had "torpedoed" hopes of getting people flying again in the summer. Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, has stepped up his criticism of the Government, describing its handling of the crisis as "lamentable". They have better ideas, but are not prepared to share them. They are more comfortable stating the bleedin' obvious, throwing verbal darts at people and being cross.




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