The value of incremental innovation


Innovation comes in various shapes and forms. Every now and then innovation leads to big leaps – think Apple’s iPhone – which is then followed by smaller incremental steps – think iPhones 2 to 6. In our industry we currently seem to be in that latter stage of “incremental innovation”. The last 40 years have initially seen big-leaps in innovation, such as  Fly-By Wire, two person-cockpits, twin-engine wide-bodies, aircraft family concept and enhanced commonality. In the past 15 years the focus has been more on incremental innovation, such as the increased use of composites, improved engines, new avionics, and tweaks to the business model (e.g. increased outsourcing). Evolution instead of revolution seems to be the motto!

Is this necessarily a bad thing? The answer may well be no. Incremental innovation delivers high value to airlines and passengers because results are tangible in the short term, with low execution risk. Take the A320neo for example. When Airbus decided to launch the NEO, we decided to shoot for a 15% efficiency improvement available to airlines in 5 years, rather than deciding to launch a new aircraft which would have potentially brought higher efficiencies, but would have entered the market much later, and with a higher execution risk. Think of the disruptions an all new aircraft delivered with several years of delay causes in the industry.

The A320neo will bring 15% efficiency gains when it enters service later this year, and we are already working together with our engine partners on incremental innovations to achieve an overall 20% efficiency gain before 2020. The additional 5% will come from cabin improvements such as Cabin-Flex and Smart Lav, together with further engine improvements. This is incremental innovation at work, delivering big savings to customers tomorrow, rather than in the next decade.

And while most people naturally focus on the big numbers like the 20% savings the NEO will bring before 2020, there are a host of other innovations worth mentioning:

Take ROPS (Runway Overun Protection System) for example. ROPS eliminates the number one cause for aircraft accidents, runway overruns, and is being successfully deployed in North America by American on their A320 fleet (ROPS is available on all Airbus models).

Another interesting development is e-taxi, using the APU to power electric motors on the main landing gear which allow the aircraft to taxi without the need for engine thrust. This cuts taxiing related fuel consumption by half.

For a short video looking at some of Airbus’ innovative technologies which benefit both airlines and their passengers, just click on the the word INNOVATION.