Flying high in a changing world: Airbus COO
Ships and planes - the two main forms of global travel, and one man's viewing platforms for global development. Rafael Gonzalez-Ripoll's 40year career launched with the Spanish navy and then 30-year in the Airbus has taken him to the heights of China's burgeoning aviation industry.
"Destiny drove me from shipbuilding to plane manufacturing," says the 63-year-old chief operating officer of Airbus China.
"Luckily, I enjoy changes and destiny has given me opportunities," Gonzalez-Ripoll said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua. "Aviation is the most amazing and fascinating thing. Why? Flying makes a difference."
After the navy, he moved into shipbuilding, and in 1986, he joined Spanish aircraft-maker CASA, which later became the Spanish branch of EADS, the pan-European aviation giant that was to change its name to Airbus. Beginning as a safety and environmental affairs officer, Gonzalez-Ripoll now leads its operations in China as the country embarks on building its own competing aircraft industry.
He articulated his sense of achievement in explaining his job to his grandson as "making people fly".
The multicultural company has seen it adapt well to China, he said, citing the example of the successful A350, the wide-body Airbus passenger aircraft that had its wings made in Spain and Germany to be assembled in Britain. "Staff here have a sense of ownership and belonging, being the owner of the group," he said.
"We open doors to people around the world to join Airbus, making them see and work in a harmonious way, and not judging according to their own culture. It is challenging, but undoubtedly beneficial."
The approach has helped Airbus develop rapidly as a latecomer in a highly competitive field
"To bridge differences, we just need to change positions," said Gonzalez-Ripoll. "We create an atmosphere that encourages all staff to sit at one table and to speak frankly." From his office facing the Beijing International Airport, Gonzalez-Ripoll sees a constant stream of aircraft taking off and landing, reminding him that the aviation industry requires total devotion.
"I have two passions in life: my 30 years in aviation and 40 years with my wife," he said.
Since becoming COO of Airbus China in Beijing in January 2013, he has devoted himself to forging a farvisioned strategy for Airbus in China, a booming civil aviation market and rising aviation industry power.
The Airbus in-service fleet for aircraft with more than 100 seats has grown from 6 percent of China's total in 1994 to 50 percent today.
"Airbus made a good decision and injected huge resources to make it real. We did the right thing, bringing not only aircraft, but also technologies and chances," said Gonzalez-Ripoll. In July 2015, the company launched its Completion and Delivery Centre (CDC) in Tianjin for cabin and furnishings fixtures and liveries. In less than three years, Tianjin will be the third center deliv- ering both narrow and wide-body Airbus aircraft, after its headquarters in Toulouse, France, and Seattle, in the United States.
"In the near future, China will have its own civilian aviation industry. It comes from the government's determination, political will and money." The first China-developed large passenger jet, the C919, from the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd. (COMAC), has entered the final assembly phase. A more ambitious plan for a twin-aisle widebody jet is in the pipeline.
"China is on the right direction. It takes time and determination. There are no shortcuts in the aviation industry. Safety is the lifeblood of aviation and nobody can find way around it," he said. "China is making the world's skies more dynamic."