Susanne von Arciszewski

Head of Cabin Assembly A380 (until 09/30/2014), Airbus

Career woman? Only in tailoring or an industrial kitchen

Susanne von Arciszewski did not let this deter her, and she made an impressive career for herself at Airbus. “My stubbornness certainly helped me,” she laughs.

Susanne von Arciszewski: “More Personalities!”

Hamburg Aviation Serie "Hamburg Pilot's" - Episode 2

At first glance, it is a personnel announcement just like any other, the sort of thing we read every week: Susanne von Arciszewski, Head of Fittings Assembly for A380 final production at Airbus, retired and left the company on 30 September, 2014. These sober lines, however, hide a character whose career was unusual, exciting, and a continual reflection of the development of Hamburg as a centre of aviation. This is a good enough reason to tell the story of Susanne von Arciszewski one more time.

Our story begins in the year 1979. Susanne von Arciszewski, a young engineer, comes to Finkenwerder at a time when a man from Hamburg by the name of Helmut Schmidt is Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. One of the most important services operated from Hamburg Airport is the Pan Am flight to West Berlin. In those days, the Finkenwerder hangars which now bear the Airbus logo were adorned with the MBB name. Susanne von Arciszewski was the only woman in the team, but this was nothing new for her after her mechanical engineering studies in Saarbruecken. At an appraisal interview with her supervisor, she asked about possible career paths within the company. He recommended that she move to the tailors or the canteen kitchen.  As a woman, he said, she was not suited to anything else.

Hamburg's Pilots

  • Episode 002
Susanne von Arciszewski - cc-by Airbus Operations GmbH
Susanne von Arciszewski
Head of Cabin Assembly A380 (until 09/30/2014)
Airbus Operations GmbH

"Standing in front of the nose wheels before the planes roll it - a great feeling!"

After the successful establishment of the A320 range, Airbus took on another mammoth project, one that was to redefine not just day-to-day work in Finkenwerder, but the whole of the city and region as an aviation centre with its supply structures. That projects was the A380. The company’s flagship became the highpoint of Arciszewski’s career. In 2008, she was appointed Head of Fittings Assembly for A380 final production. In this role, which she held until retiring in autumn 2014, she was responsible for the entire cabin fitting process, leading a team of no less than 600 personnel.

“This is where everything that the passenger will later see is installed: galleys, toilets, seats, wall panels and overhead lockers. And when it‘s all in place, it gets tested, to make sure that passenger entertainment works,” says von Arciszewski. The team can now completely fit out an A380 within 6 weeks. As a rule, two thirds of the work is done before the plane goes to the paintshop. At this juncture, the cabin fitters meet with the airline customer again for a walk through the aircraft, making note of what is still to be done. After the final third of the work is completed, there is a final handover inspection by the customer.

"The A380 is and remains something special"

“Even when we have delivered dozens of aircraft, the A380 is and will remain something very special, even for Airbussers!” This is quite a statement for an engineer who has lived through 35 years of Airbus history and seen the site double in size. And it’s not only in commercial terms that the company is better positioned now than it was then. “When my children were born at the start of the 80s, the earliest you could enquire about a kindergarten place was when they turned 3. I had the good fortune back then that my ex-husband took over the role of house-husband. Today, the situation is significantly better for both men and women,” says Susanne von Arciszewski.

As one of very few female engineers in this country to have reached the senior levels of a major company, she has attracted a lot of media attention. Her clear stand against the introduction of a quota for women in senior positions, for example, has made this even more the case. “I believe that the discussion about the perception of women in the world of work is a good thing. And networks like Hamburg Aviation WoMen, in which I am personally active, where women with completely different backgrounds get together, are great. But ultimately, a quota that sees women preferred on the basis of their gender is not what we need. Perfomance, and performance alone, should count.”

 “Whenever somebody didn’t believe I could do something, I saw it as a challenge to achieve exactly that.” She concedes, however, that “breaking through to the senior management level, as a ‘non-man’, was the biggest challenge I ever faced in my career. It‘s not that I had it especially difficult. The situation was simply different back then. But times changed, and the moment came when I had people supporting me and encouraging me.”

At the start of the 1990s, a new age began at the Airbus site in Finkenwerder with the establishment of the A321 final assembly line. Susanne von Arciszewski’s path took her to much higher places. She was entrusted with the establishment of the flightline, and after that she led the Maintenance area in the delivery centre, coming into direct contact with customers, the airlines. “This was the most exciting phase in my career,” von Arciszweski continues. “To stand in front of the nose wheel before the aircraft taxied to set off for its new home – what a great feeling that was.”

"What I miss today are personalities"

Her advice to the next generation entering the employment market is to make sure they don’t lose the ability to offend, to be bold in discussions with their superiors. “What I miss today are personalities. People who can draw you in, people who put their whole heart into their product – and into Hamburg as a location product,” says von Arciszewksi. “I get the impression that we used to have more personalities like that.”

The personality of Susanne von Arciszewski will not be completely vanishing from the stage. She is taking over as Chair of the Board of the Juist Youth Training Centre, an established part of the apprenticeship and dual-mode student training programme at Airbus for many years. She will also become more active in the Lions Club. “I will have enough to do,” she says with certainty. But the pain of parting is not completely absent. “I will miss my team. And the opportunity to just wander through the hangar to an A380,” she says. Her final project before she handed over the baton to her successor – who, by the way, comes from within the department – was to fit the Residence Cabin in the first Etihad A380. There has been global recognition of this prestigious project, positioned above First Class and significantly raising the international bar for cabin products once again. At the same time, it was a worthy close to Susanne von Arciszewki’s aviation career in Hamburg.