At the recent Global Aerospace Summit, held last May at the St. Regis hotel on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, Aviation Business got the opportunity to sit down with Francois Auque, general partner at Airbus Ventures.
In addition to participating on a panel discussing investment into aerospace, Auque was pleased to once again be present at the Global Aerospace Summit, an event he lauded as a “wonderful opportunity for networking”.
When asked on his viewpoint on the current trends surrounding investment in aerospace, the French-national, who previously headed up Airbus’ space business, noted that over the last decade, there has been what he described as a “de-clusterisation” of the aerospace sector.
“Newcomers are using methods, technologies, business models, which were before disconnected from aerospace, have entered into the sector. Thanks to that, they have changed the landscape,” explains Auque.
“The goal of Airbus Venture is to invest in selected start-ups, which are today not in aerospace and have a broader scope, but which we believe can change the future of aerospace.”
Today, Airbus Ventures’ portfolio comprises of 21 investments, 60% of which are based in the US, while a good chunk of the remaining start-ups is based in Europe and Japan.
Breaking down the portfolio, Auque shares that Airbus Ventures has made seven investments into the field of autonomy, which included not only technology related to flying vehicles, but also systems geared for automated land vehicles. This meant tapping into areas such as sensors, data fusion, simulations, as well as air traffic and fleet management.
The company has also invested in electrification, a move motivated by a recent interest in electric propulsion for aircraft, while other commitments were made towards new aircraft materials, connectivity, product security and cybersecurity. Airbus Ventures also held great interest towards advancements in manufacturing and digitalisation.
“We have made six investments in digital design and manufacturing … this is very important for aerospace. In aerospace, development cost is very high, compared to production cost. We believe through digitisation, we can reduce the relevant cost by 40%,” explains Auque.
On the flipside of the equation, those firms that catch the eye of Airbus Ventures, not only receive support in the form of financing to develop a proof of concept for Airbus but given the company’s position within the industry, these start-ups gain the benefit of global exposure.
Illustrating with an example, Auque points to one investment that was developing a software tool for fleet management of automated ground vehicles, particularly automated shuttles.
While Airbus’s interest is focused on the application of such technology in automated flying vehicles, the start-up will greatly benefit from Airbus extensive connections with airport operators and airlines.
Despite in the interest in various companies around the world, Airbus Ventures has yet to invest in a start-up based here in the Middle East, though this is not for a lack of interest. In fact, Auque believes the region is primed for investment opportunities.
“First, there huge actors in the Middle East for co-investment. There are parties, Mubadala for example, and players in the Middle East, who can be co-investors with us,” says Auque.
“Today is probably a bit early for a structure like us to search for investment here. Because the developments for an innovative ecosystem is starting. There is a very big push, very consistent, and I trust the capability here to achieve that, but it’s a bit early. For us, we concentrate our efforts on areas that are more mature.”