Autumn 2021

Inside the Industry: Benoit Defforge, Benoit Defforge

Benoit Defforge, left, at the 17 May 2021 debut of the ACJ Smart LiFi Monitor. JV Reymondon/Airbus

Benoit Defforge, President at ACJ, shares the company’s exceptional 2020 results, his great optimism for 2021 and an invitation

Some industry insiders have suggested that although the pandemic has led more people to choose business/private aviation, the benefits of that to the industry have really been seen among the smaller jets, while the market for airliner-sized business jets is struggling. What’s your take?

The corporate jet market was more resilient versus the commercial aircraft market during the COVID-19 pandemic. Business people will and have to travel despite the crisis, which has also attracted new clients who realise the benefits of private aviation. I believe there is a strong possibility that some of the industry’s new clients will become our customers.

In terms of orders and deliveries, 2020 was one of our strongest years at ACJ. We delivered 100% of our ACJ production plan and sold 12 ACJs, a record for us. That’s a book-to-bill of 2:1!

We also launched the ACJ TwoTwenty, a new large bizjet, with six orders at launch. For Airbus, it was our first fully digital product launch. With this digital event we managed to share this great news with the bizjet aviation community and many other interested followers. So, 2021 has been a good year so far, in sales and deliveries for our single aisle and widebody products too, confirming the market appeal of our exceptional aircraft.

We plan to deliver more ACJs from our strong backlog in the coming months – details will be shared at our NBAA-BACE press conference.

Conversely, specialists in refurbishing used jets are telling me they are seeing increasing interest from customers looking for an ACJ or BBJ to refurbish. Is this positive news for you? What can you offer customers who are looking for an OEM-refurbished/approved ACJ?

Airbus aircraft are designed for 20 years or more in service, flying several thousand hours a year. Our ACJ aircraft have potentially much longer lives than traditional commercial jets since they typically only fly a few hundred hours a year. This ensures excellent residual value. On top of that, with Easystart we provide sellers and buyers all the support they need.

The Easystart initiative offers tailored support to buyers of ACJs that are already in service. It helps them understand how an Airbus Corporate Jet can perform on their key missions, how upgrading it can be an attractively affordable and how services – including training, support and upgrades – are available to ensure a smooth entry-into-service.
Pre-owned Airbus Corporate Jets thus have much to offer and as they are the most modern aircraft family in their class, longevity is in their genes, bringing significant potential for new operators.

Airbus Corporate Jets received an order for ACJ350 aircraft from the German government. Such deals are rare in business/VIP aviation but ACJ has jets placed with governments and the military around the world. What’s your secret?

We are very proud to have received an order for three ACJ350s from the German government; it is a great milestone. This modern VIP widebody is also attracting other customers and we have another order from an undisclosed client.

The ACJ350 is the latest addition to ACJ’s family of VIP widebodies. It offers 270m2 of cabin space and lower cabin altitude for better comfort, as well as innovative technology, including a fuselage made from next-generation carbon composite materials.

We can now fly non-stop around the world in either direction, enjoying the space offered by an ACJ330neo or the rather different experience of a Global 7500 or G650. So, is the next challenge to do it faster? Can we expect Airbus and ACJ to go supersonic anytime soon?

The Airbus Corporate Jet family is the most modern and comprehensive in the world, offering companies, individuals and governments an unmatched choice of the world’s widest and most spacious cabins. The A330neo combines new-generation Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, aerodynamic and other improvements to deliver even more comfort, efficiency and true nonstop-to-the-world range. Designed for highly-demanding VIP and private markets, the aircraft delivers top-end luxury, comfort and range.
For government customers needing to fly heads of state and delegations around the world, the ACJ330neo offers an unbeatable combination of modern design, proven capability and productivity. It can fly 25 passengers 9,400nm (17,400km) or 20 hours, sufficient to fly non-stop from Europe to Australia.

Airbus continually researches technology to meet current and future customer requirements, but supersonic aviation is not one of its current priorities. All our R&D (on average more than €2-billion per annum) is focused on improving aircraft efficiency and reducing aircraft emissions. It is pressing ahead into a new generation of cleaner technologies, including hybrid-electric propulsion, sustainable fuels and hydrogen technologies to decarbonise our industry and contribute to our decarbonisation objectives.

Regardless of international ambitions for aviation to become carbon neutral by 2050, reducing emissions is an imperative. What more can ACJ do?

At Airbus we have always been committed to leading the decarbonisation of our industry. Our ambition is to be the first to bring a zero-emission aircraft to the market, by 2035. ACJ, of course, is part of this strategy and will benefit from the Airbus technology breakthroughs. We have the most modern aircraft family that we are continuously enhancing to limit its environmental impact.
We also believe that SAF has the potential to become a major driver for CO2 reductions. All our aircraft are already certified to fly with up to 50% SAF and our ambition is to reach a certified 100% capacity.

We are taking a step towards greater transparency concerning our own emissions by disclosing to the public all of the emissions across our own value chain. This shows our willingness to lead the change. But to achieve our ambitious targets, we cannot move forward alone. We can all contribute, and we must all play a part in making aviation sustainable.

Business was good in 2020 and you are optimistic for your 2021 results. Can we expect a full ACJ presence at the NBAA show?

We will be present at the NBAA exhibition, with an ACJneo for the first time; Airbus Corporate Helicopters will be present too. Guests will also be able to explore the ACJ TwoTwenty cabin virtually and see a demonstration of our innovative ACJ Smart LiFi Monitor. Come and see us at the static!

We do expect 2021 to be a great year. We’ll deliver our first ACJ TwoTwenty this winter, only a little more than a year since its launch.