From The Top: Dr Johannes Bussmann, Lufthansa Technik AG

This is the first installment of FINN’s new From The Top programme, where we talk to the leaders of the top companies in the aerospace and aviation industries. We met Dr Johannes Bussmann, CEO, Lufthansa Technik AG, to discuss big data, the skills challenge, the future of aircraft interiors, and more.

“I can’t complain”

Bussmann said: “We had a good year in 2017 –  strong growth in the global regions...It always could be better, but I can't complain.”

Over the past few years, we've seen changes in aviation such as the growth of low-cost carriers, which has put a pressure on costs and on the traditional large airlines. How much of an effect is that having on Lufthansa Technik AG?

“Actually, it's not the same development on the MRO side,” Bussmann said. “All these organisations are very professionally run airlines, and so the regulators have done a good job and also the manufacturers of aircraft. There are pretty strict rules that you have to follow. The work that goes into an aircraft is not different, whether you run a so-called legacy airline or a low-cost model. That has nothing to do with us at the end of the day.”

Customers, competitors, partners

Another development is that several engine-makers, for example, are starting to take on their own MRO, rather than leaving it for independents.

On how that works in practice, Bussmann said: “We are customers, we are partners, and we are competitors. But that's [been] the industry for the last 30 years, and I think it will remain like that. We also see quite close cooperation, especially when it comes to new technologies, because to build it is one thing; to operate it is another.

“This exchange of the engineers so they see how the technology behaves in real life and talking to the guys that designed it, it's a fruitful discussion, and that's why we have our engineering teams quite closely working together, and that's something that is also going [to continue in] the future, I'm pretty sure.”

“The data belongs to airlines”

Information is everything – engine-makers want to hold on to a lot of information, the MRO businesses want some of the analytics so they can see performance, and the airlines want to see it too. Is there a three-way battle going on?

According to Bussmann: “I think first of all, the data belong to the airlines… because they bought a product, and it's [their responsibility]  to keep it in the air and to keep airworthy with all the requirements. Second, we as an MRO see the data out of the daily performance, and we see what happens in the shops. The complexity of today's aircraft is so big that you need to see it as a holistic picture of the aircraft. That's why we decided about [18 months] ago to design our own big data platform, Aviatar.”

Don’t believe the hype

He added: “I think we are still in an early phase of all this. I don't believe it will make the world turn the other way. We will have some areas where we have big impacts, lots of areas where we have only smaller impact but where there is really progress. A lot of these stories and beliefs in the future I think are too high, but I'm very confident that this will be the area with the fastest and strongest progress in the future.”

Bussmann noted: “You can of course [get] a better prognosis for the future out of the data that you receive from the shops. And you can also optimise your own repair processes because you know what you did last time to this part. Then you see the operation later, and you get it back in your shop again and can see: did the assumptions that you made really work or did it work in a different way? There, I think the user shop data and the analytics that is behind it will bring us a step forward."

Modernising interiors

Interiors is another key part of Lufthansa Technik’s business. At EBACE last year we saw the company’s Induction Cooking Platform, which allows fresh food to be prepared on board quickly, safely, cleanly and economically.

On how he sees this space developing, Bussmann said: “I think the biggest change will be in bringing the normal gadgets that everybody uses on ground into the aircraft. There is still, I think, a lot of development to do so that there is a seamless integration of your mobile devices within the cabin interior, like you do in your home. 

“We have developed a lot of these systems already further but if you see all the aircraft that are flying out there, I think there's a huge potential to refurbish them and to make that more modern just by the use of the modern technologies.”

The skills challenge

One of the big threats facing all kinds of aerospace companies is the shortage of engineers and other skilled professionals.

Bussmann commented: “I would in principle agree. What I'm still trying to find out is how much do we get on capacity by using artificial intelligence, for example, or other kinds of digital toolings that we are just now developing because a lot of our knowledgeable engineers, and I think that's a global thing, are occupied with more or less useless work. They need to document, they need to do routine work that has nothing to do with real engineering knowledge."

"So the question is [how much] will the introduction of these technologies free our capacity with the individual engineer, and what is the additional demand that is coming from growth? I think that's hard to answer. If I would know that, I wouldn't be sitting here.”

By Dr Johannes Bussmann, CEO, Lufthansa Technik AG

There’s nothing to worry about

One question we ask all our From The Top interviewees:  What keeps you awake a night?

Bussmann’s answer? “Actually, nothing. I think it's a fantastic industry. We have so many new things going on. For me, that's something really inspiring to work with my team, also with our partners and also with our competitors to drive that further because at the end of the day, it's only one job all of us do, and that's to provide safe air transport. That's something that really makes it fun. I love to do this job, and a lot of my colleagues do [too]."

"There is nothing really to worry about from my perspective.”

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