As President and CEO of the defense and security company Saab, Håkan Buskhe is at the centre of Sweden’s aviation engineering skills. Here he talks about a possible future where air travel is unmanned, and that Sweden’s largest industrial city might be located in Brazil.

After procurement process lasting more than fifteen years, the announcement came in December 2013 that Brazil will buy 36 fighter jets from Saab, the JAS 39 Gripen (Griffin in English), which in Swedish crowns is a multi-billion deal. Swedish Saab had finally managed to out-compete other giants such as Boeing, Dassault and BAE Systems. Buskhe notes that defence forces now reason differently in their choice of materials – the most expensive is not always the best.

“Saab’s success stems to a great extent from the fact that we manufacture aircraft and aircraft parts of the highest quality at a reasonable price,” says Håkan Buskhe.

Swedish industry already has a strong presence in Brazil, and the Gripen deal means that Swedish business becomes even more established in the region. Among other things, parts of Gripen’s development and production will be located in São Paulo in collaboration with the Brazilian aviation industry.

“Swedish companies have 200 subsidiaries in São Paulo, which combined have a yearly turnover of over 50 billion Swedish crowns. In a way that makes São Paulo Sweden’s largest industrial city,” says Buskhe.

Growth regions such as South America are becoming increasingly important for Swedish business travellers. According to figures from Statistics Sweden (SCB), the proportion of Sweden’s total exports to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) between 2002 and 2012 increased by 70 percent, and the share of imports increased by 215 percent. But despite the rapidly growing trade with Brazil, there are no direct routes from Sweden to São Paulo or Brazil.

“A direct route would save time and allow for more contacts, which in turn would facilitate further exchange between Sweden and Brazil,” says Buskhe, who spends much of his time travelling. Saab is located in 40 countries and serves customers in more than 100 countries.

“A global company like Saab needs to travel quickly, efficiently and in an environmentally friendly manner. Flexibility is everything – travel plans often change based on customers and potential customers changing opportunities” says Buskhe.

In an increasingly globalized world there are also higher demands on how we travel. It is not enough that the aircraft we use will be safer, faster and getting an increased range. The sustainability aspect needs to be prioritized, says Buskhe.

“I believe that aviation in the future must be able to respond to people’s desire for sustainable travel. If the industry can meet the growing demands for reduced noise and lower emissions, people’s confidence in air travel will increase”says Buskhe.

Saab is investing considerable resources in cutting-edge technology for aviation and Buskhe believe that the use of new technology will mean big changes for the way we travel in the future.

“In the future – which in this perspective is probably 20-30 years from now – we may see a trend where many aircraft fly unmanned. Both for cars and trains, progress goes in that direction and I see good opportunities for such development in air travel as well. The benefits are many, but many issues remain to be resolved. It will take time, and has to take time, but I think it’s something we will get to see and experience.”

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Håkan Buskhe

President and CEO Saab

How often do you travel?

At least a couple of days each week. Saab is located in nearly 40 countries, has customers in 100 countries and nearly 50 locations in Sweden. It is an extremely important part of my job to be in close proximity of our current and potential customers, industry partners, and employees. I also enjoy travelling with my family. In the autumn of 2013, I visited Australia, Thailand, India, USA, UK and South Africa as well as numerous locations in Sweden.

What is your best memory from a trip?

There are many, but if I had to choose one, it would be a trip I made with my parents and my brother when I was young. We travelled to Thailand in the early 1970s. I saw things I had never even heard of, we met people with very different experiences and I learned a lot about the importance of human encounters.

What is your worst memory from a trip?

Of course there are several of those, such as delayed flights, lost luggage and storms that changed travel plans, but I prefer not to think about them too much.

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