For its first edition, AIR Convention 2018 hosted talk panels and presentations from leading aviation industry experts to examine innovative approaches to commercial aviation business, including the latest developments and best practices in aviation training and human resources, innovation and technology, employee branding and increasing productivity as well as an array of other topics related to the most pressing issues concerning global aviation.

Sangeeta Rughooputh, head of Marketing Innovation & Transformation at Airbus Commercial Aircraft, explained to Clément Charpentreau from AeroTime the place that innovation holds at the France, Toulouse-based manufacturer.

How much value, would you say, does Airbus place on new technology and innovation? How does this play into the overall marketing strategies of the company?

Boosting innovation has been one of our priorities for the past few years. It led us to open two tech centres at the heart of the most innovative hubs of the world: one in Shenzhen [China], one in the Silicon Valley [U.S]. Those two centers are outside of standard Airbus process and advance in fast track project mode.

However, we must remember that incremental development is still key to our business as it enables improvement on our commercial aircraft, and provide customers with near term wins.

We also have an impressive backlog to deliver and are always looking out for ways to improve our manufacturing processes to shorten time and ensure quality.

How does Airbus aim to gain competitive advantage against, say, rival Boeing, who also takes part in major technological advancements and partnerships?

We are very driven by our customers, and they will benchmark us against the competition!

The fact that we have set up the links with China and the Silicon Valley, and our various startup labs and accelerators across the company, has taught us how to move into a more fast-track mode. It is something that we learned from the startup model. It helps us work faster and get to the core issues quicker.

We have our customers in hand, we talk to them to make sure we are on the right track, through various initiatives, like our customer experience team, or group projects like Skywise where we get information directly from the airlines. Our strategy is to stay close to the customer.

With so many sources of innovations at hand, how do you prioritize which ones should be turned into incremental changes?

Speaking from a customer perspective, we try to get as much feedback from customers. We help the startups linking with customers, and with them having access to our network of experts, we can quickly see which ideas are getting more traction from customers.

We also have internal programs to accelerate our ideas. It is market-driven innovation. We bring the voice of our customers to our innovations, to see which ideas we should be exploring further.

One of Airbus’ biggest focus is on digital innovation, such as the Skywise open data platform. Can you explain what Skywise is exactly?

It is a collaboration with Palantir, global leader in big data and analytics. It helps us better understand how our aircraft are operated by linking data from the aircraft in operation, greatly reducing time for inquiries. We believe that we will be able to have one unique data aviation platform with the full ecosystem on one platform.

We started with some airlines. Today, over 30 airlines are connected with us, 10 suppliers and over 3000 aircraft. This is the backbone of creating our data platform and that will then allow us to evolve with the whole industry.

We want to be at the centre of this system. As manufacturer, we are the experts. We partnered with Palantir in order to give back the value of data to our customers through Skywise Core.

How important are partnerships and joint ventures for innovation projects at Airbus? What is the biggest one that the company has established lately?

Partnership is a way for us to remain focused on our expertise. We advance by creating bonds with others experts in the fields where we see tremendous growth, like big data, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. We use partnerships, to create value for our customers.

We try to create synergies. We place a lot of importance on partnerships. Our partnership with Palantir through Skywise is very strategic and will drive our digital transformation for us and our customers and the aviation ecosystem.