FLINT Alumni Insights: Relocating our careers from New Zealand to the South of France #3

How a large company stays agile (reflections from Amy)

As my first quarter of a year at Airbus flies by, I’ve really gained an appreciation for this amazing beast of a company I now work for. While supply chain challenges and post-COVID resource issues remain prevalent in the aerospace industry, I’m consistently impressed by how genuinely future focussed Airbus are and how they maintain their ambition and agility at such a large scale. 

There are two main areas of the company which shine bright in this domain – Airbus UpNext and ZEROe.

Airbus UpNext is a wholly owned subsidiary of Airbus which has a mission to evaluate, mature and validate potential new products and services that encompass radical technological breakthroughs. They get to develop all of the exciting stuff, working on projects from autonomous aerial refuelling, to testing of cryogenic and superconducting technologies to boost the performance of electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems of future aircraft. 

 The teams at Airbus UpNext bring together a whole range of specialist skills. The people working here are dedicated to their project for three years (most are on fixed term contracts for this time period) and they have a single goal of demonstrating the technology they’re working on in this time. They work in an agile way, running sprints, holding stand-ups and regularly reviewing their work to establish the progress they’ve made. This way of working promotes a start-up mentality within the teams and means that they progress a lot quicker than you’d expect from a traditional OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer).

ZEROe is the name of Airbus’ hydrogen aircraft project, which has been running since 2018. This project is fully embedded in Airbus, under Airbus Commercial, and currently has over 1000 people working on it. To me, this level of resource alone is enough to show that Airbus are serious about their commitment to a decarbonised aviation future, but since joining the team I’ve been further impressed by the genuine passion and drive that I see from each and every person working on it. 

I believe this level of maintained momentum comes from the autonomy that each person in ZEROe has to do their job. Being part of such a large organisation means that some element of a hierarchy and reporting structure is inevitable. However, for ZEROe, there is also a constantly reinforced culture of speaking up and sharing your ideas and insights. For example, right from day one in the team I was invited to share my thoughts, feedback and ideas on the current strategy, I was given the Asia Pacific customer portfolio to lead, and the responsibility and flexibility to “to “make it my own”. The leadership team of ZEROe is also very transparent and open. I’ve already had numerous opportunities to interact with the ZEROe Vice President as well as others from the lead team, and feel that I could comfortably approach them with issues or opportunities at any time.

Hydrogen’s Role in Sustainable Aviation (Reflections from Amy)

Aviation is one of the most challenging industries in the world to decarbonise. However, with climate change becoming ever more prevalent, we’ve reached a point in time where we have to start doing things differently if we want to do right by the planet and maintain our license to operate (both with the public and with governments too). We’re already seeing some people and businesses choosing not to fly for sustainability reasons, but in many cases flying is the only practical solution if we want to keep our people and products connected globally. 

However, there are very few technologies that exist today that can decarbonise aviation, and there is no silver bullet to ensure the aviation industry can reach its net-zero by 2050 target. Hence we need to make use of all the available solutions to help us get there – SAF Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF, an alternative fuel made from renewable feedstocks), hydrogen and electric aircraft technologies, operational efficiency improvements as well as carbon removal solutions. 

Maybe I’m a little biassed given I’m working in this specific segment of the industry, but to me hydrogen is the most exciting option, given it has the potential to be truly zero emissions (using green hydrogen with fuel cell technologies), it’s scalable and it’s versatile (hydrogen can be used to directly power an aircraft, or as an ingredient of power-to-liquid synthetic fuel also known as eSAF). Hydrogen is also a technology that is being adopted by many other industries, particularly within transport, so we have the opportunity to develop and scale it together through a multi-sectoral collaborative approach.

Airbus has publicly announced an ambition to bring the world’s first hydrogen powered commercial aircraft to market by 2035. We are also seeing start-up companies such as Universal Hydrogen and ZeroAvia developing hydrogen aviation technologies, as well as airlines and airports such as Air New Zealand and Christchurch International Airport looking at possible hydrogen aircraft operations. If you are interested in learning more about hydrogen aviation in New Zealand, you may like to read the New Zealand Hydrogen Aviation Consortium’s report here.

Embracing Technology While Settling Abroad (Reflections from Amy and Jack)

On a personal note, the last three months have been a whirlwind. Setting up a new life in a foreign country takes an overwhelming amount of time and energy, with multiple layers of hurdles to overcome. We’ve been trying to balance work, building a community, and expanding our international education through travel, while also dealing with hours of administration and bureaucracy to ensure we can stay in the country and live comfortably.

We genuinely don’t know how we could have done it without technology. Apps such as Duolingo and Google Translate have been vital for learning to communicate in France. Travel planning platforms such as SkyScanner and Google Mapshave allowed us to quickly evaluate options for our weekend trips and holidays. Social media has helped us build our own little community in Toulouse, largely via a post made to an expat Facebook page. We’ve met many wonderful people and had incredible experiences. We’re pleased to say we’re through the worst of the bureaucratic hurdles now and are excited to see what the European summer brings!

Thank you for reading. In our next article, Jack will share his initial experiences working in the French agricultural ecosystem and his insights from two global technology conferences.

Amy Strang is a Market and Customer Strategist in the ZEROe team at Airbus, currently based in Toulouse, France. Previously, Amy held the role of Chair of the FLINT Auckland Lead Team and worked for Air New Zealand as a Fleet Strategy Specialist.

Jack Keeys is an agri-food-tech specialist, currently working remotely from Toulouse. Additionally, Jack is also co-founder of a NZ-based start-up, Chair of the IFAMA Young Board, and has previous experience with the Aotearoa Circle, KPMG New Zealand, and in agri-technology.  

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *