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Executive: Technology helps make better, safer life

By Yang Yang | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-04-12 07:23

Editor's Note: This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up. China Daily interviewed top executives of well-known multinational companies for their views on the country's socioeconomic development.

Laurent Guyot, vice-president of Thales North Asia and CEO of Thales in China, aims to use the company's strength in artificial intelligence, big data and cyber security technologies to develop more efficient and safer air traffic and rail transportation for high-quality development and a better, safer life in China.

As a provider of in-flight entertainment systems for the C919 aircraft, Thales has greatly benefited from China's booming aviation industry since the country's reform and opening-up four decades ago. The company would like to strengthen research and development in China to achieve more in the coming years, Guyot said.

The market value of global in-flight entertainment and communication systems is expected to reach $9.82 billion by 2024, according to Grand View Research, a San Francisco-based market research and consulting agency.

China has taken a leading role in AI technology development, as well as big data, in recent years. Thales would like to deepen cooperation with local partners to digitalize traffic control and to avoid traffic jams by predicting traffic patterns, Guyot said.

The French company, headquartered in Paris, has 64,000 staff in 56 countries, 25,000 of whom are engineers, and research and development specialists.

As a strong supporter of trade globalization, Guyot believes the healthy development of the world economy requires an open market. The company would like to expand to a larger market in countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.

In the first half of 2017, the group's intake of orders increased 10 percent to 6 billion euros ($7.05 billion) compared to the same period in 2016.

Sales jumped 5.9 percent to 7.24 billion euros during the same period, while adjusted net income climbed 15 percent to 424 million euros.

In an in-depth interview with China Daily website, Guyot talked about how Thales uses its strengths in core digital technologies of connectivity, data analysis, artificial intelligence and cyber security to achieve greater development in China, as the country has entered into a new era with a commitment to high-quality development.

What is your comment on China's reform and opening-up in the past 40 years?

I find it fascinating to find out what has happened in the past 40 years, which has happened in Europe in more than 200 years. It is really fascinating to see where China is today compared to where it was 40 years ago, but it is even more fascinating to try to imagine where China will be in 40 years. China is home to very fast development in artificial intelligence. For instance, it is a world leader in artificial intelligence, which will play a great role for making the world now and in 40 years. Thales is also a great player in artificial intelligence worldwide, so I believe the combination of the two will make Thales probably continue to contribute to the next 40 years of development in China.

Would you please share your views on China's aviation development?

Aviation in China is fascinating and it is a fast-growing sector providing a great number of safe flights. There are today more than 5,500 aircraft owned by Chinese airlines. We believe this will double in the next 10 years. In terms of passengers, it probably will also double in the next 10 years, so this is, I would say, a fascinating market.

Thales has been in China for nearly 40 years and I am very proud to say Thales contributed to these 40 years of immense development in China. More than 60 percent of the flights of the aircraft in the air are controlled by air traffic controlled solutions coming from Thales. One metro line out of five in China is relying on Thales solutions to make fully secured metro movement, so I can say proudly Thales contributed heavily to this 40 years of incredible development and benefited a lot from the process.

What is your suggestion for China's aviation development from a long-term perspective?

I would like to say the development of the aviation industry has been very high-quality development. You not only increase a lot of the traffic but the safety level in China is at the highest in the world, so this combination of growth and safety is really an achievement for China.

What I would suggest to pursue this development is probably to say where we identify bottlenecks and where we could remove bottlenecks. Bottlenecks are due to the densification of traffic and air traffic control itself. The country needs to, and is already working on, a strong modernization of traffic control methods in China, in order to allow for denser traffic. All that, and keeping the safety level as high as it is today.

As a provider of in-flight entertainment systems to China's new passenger aircraft the C919, what role will Thales play when China works on next generation of aircraft with Russia?

A company like Thales is very proud to contribute to the future success of the C919. Obviously we are in discussion with our partners with COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) and the Chinese industry in order to pursue this cooperation for the next wide-body jetliner C929 that is being developed in cooperation with Russia. It happens that Thales has very strong cooperation, not only in China with COMAC on that, but also a broad cooperation with Russian actors of aviation that are currently partnering with COMAC. So that’s why we believe the company with Thales can really bridge and bring very strong, capable solutions to build the future success of the C919 and C929 on the international market.

Could you please discuss your efforts to achieve digitalization in the company nationwide?

First, a key area for China to modernize air traffic control is to go digital, an area which Thales is making effort. In order to automate traffic assessment, contact between different air traffic control systems is important, because it can help predict the traffic in order to make sure aircraft can take off and land on time.

Second, Thales is also sharpening big data technology, which can help predict traffic for all aircraft in the sky in China in the next hour, or in the next few hours. Big data will be important, together with artificial intelligence, to be able to identify the rules that really drive smooth traffic in the country. The internet of things also is important as communications between equipment, aircraft and the ground will be critical for efficient and smooth traffic.

And finally all that cannot happen without being secure. Cyber security will be at the heart of this digitalization of aircraft and the air transport industry. On this aspect, Thales can be a very strong partner as well.

Could you please give some suggestions on China's growth in terms of reform and progress in the technology and infrastructure sectors?

Obviously the movement toward more R&D in the technology and infrastructure sectors is the basis for innovation and can bring in better services to the domestic population and the very fast-growing middle class. That is the key direction to pursue the transformation and development of China.

I could see in the 19th Congress, the new contradiction has been defined being at the heart of concern of China, which tries to put together a continuous growth of the economy together with a better quality of life for all the citizens. That is probably a very strong direction and the answer to put together growth and quality of life is innovation in technologies, such as the internet, artificial intelligence and big data.

What is your expectation for the development of your company in China? What is your development plan in China over the next three or five years?

Thales is currently very active in rail transportation and rail signaling to secure the transport of passengers, and the company is also very active in air traffic control, safety equipment inside the aircraft and in-flight entertainment systems. All these are key areas for China to pursue high-quality development, so Thales is at the heart of the growing economy of China. We believe we will increase our local research and development in order to export from China what has been co-innovated with local partners here.

Thales has three joint ventures, four fully-owned companies and more than 1,300 employees in China. What we see is fast growth of employees dedicated to R&D, so we can provide more advanced equipment that will increase the safety and security of the flights in aircraft, helicopters and drones or unmanned aerial vehicles.

Will Thales' products be shifted to market in countries participating in the Belt and Road?

Yes. Another area of development for Thales is to partner with large Chinese companies involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. Thales cooperates with airport and road construction companies by providing electronic equipment to increase the value of the infrastructure. For example, we provide rail signaling, airport operation systems and airport security systems for the air traffic management of these airports worldwide. We hope to seize more opportunities and benefit more from the Belt and Road Initiative.

Is your company in support of trade globalization as the world economy is being disturbed?

Yes, of course. We are a strong supporter of trade globalization because Thales is a company operating in about 56 countries and this cannot happen without globalization and an open world. Thales needs to operate in different countries and exchange between countries so that is what we will continue to do.

What are your expectations for the future?

I imagine the next 40 years will be even more fascinating than what happened in the last 40 years. China is a real champion in very important new technologies like artificial intelligence. Thales is also a key player in AI, so obviously combining both will contribute to developing solutions for digital transportation - digital aircraft for instance - for many solutions we use to increase the quality of life for the people.

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