Airbus flies into new era with change of boss

Guillaume Faury poses for photographers during the Airbus annual press conference on the 2018 financial results in Blagnac, Southern France, 14 February 2019. [EPA-EFE/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO]

Frenchman Guillaume Faury took over as CEO of European aerospace giant Airbus on Wednesday, looking to benefit from the current troubles of rival Boeing and limit potential disruption from Brexit and US President Donald Trump’s trade threats.

The 51-year-old will replace Tom Enders, who is stepping down after five years leading the France-based group whose 129,000 employees manufacture airliners, helicopters and satellites.

Enders oversaw the further expansion of the group, but his rein was clouded by the recent decision to scrap the loss-making A380 super-jumbo, as well as multiple probes into suspect payments.

The German’s retirement package – worth €37 million ($41 million) including pension and stocks – has also sparked controversy in France and a pledge from the government that it will legislate to limit huge corporate payoffs.

Faury will inherit a financially sound, highly profitable business with an order book of 7,350 passenger planes, which should be enough to keep its factories running for a decade at current production rates.

“We will be working with passion to continue to grow Airbus successfully and sustainably,” he told a shareholders’ meeting in Amsterdam where he was formally unveiled as the new boss.

Analysts see Airbus as having an opportunity to profit from the booming airline market, particularly in Asia, and from the global grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX series plane after two recent deadly crashes involving the popular new airliner.

“They simply need to use this window of Boeing weakness to hoover up orders in Asia, if they can,” said aerospace analyst Neil Wilson at Markets.com, an online financial trading platform.

According to industry body IATA, Asia will account for most of growth in the industry over the next 20 years, with more than half of the new passenger traffic coming from the region.

Boeing crash could be ‘scandal to rival Dieselgate’, say MEPs

The European Parliament’s transport committee quizzed the head of the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on Monday (18 March) about the ongoing investigation into a crash that prompted agencies around the world to ground Boeing MAX aircraft.

‘Harmful’ Brexit?

But Faury will also have several tricky issues in his inbox, including handling the fall-out from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, which threatens to disrupt the company’s long and complicated supply chains.

“Brexit could well mean a complete rethink of long-term manufacturing strategy for Airbus and brave decisions may need to be made unless a satisfactory outcome can be agreed by UK and Brussels,” independent aviation analyst Howard Wheeldon told AFP.

Enders branded the British government’s handling of Brexit a “disgrace” in January and warned that a “no deal” departure would lead to “very harmful decisions” affecting the production of aircraft wings in southwest England.

Airbus slams no-deal Brexit 'madness', threatens UK pull-out

Airbus warned on Thursday (24 January) it could shift future wing-building out of the UK in the absence of a smooth exit from the European Union, predicting “potentially very harmful decisions” for its British operations in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The US is another source of worry for the group after President Trump lashed out again at the EU this week, vowing to impose fresh tariffs over subsidies to Airbus.

For more than a decade, Washington and Brussels have accused each other of unfairly subsidising Boeing and Airbus respectively and have fought repeated battles at the World Trade Organization, which polices global trade rules.

EU plans for own retaliation in aircraft dispute with US

The EU has begun preparations to retaliate over Boeing subsidies, an EU official said on Tuesday (9 April), a day after Washington listed EU products it plans to hit with tariffs in their aircraft dispute.

Helicopter specialist

Faury will also be wary of multiple investigations in France, Britain and the United States into possible bribes paid to win contracts between 2008 and 2013 that could cause more embarrassment – and lead to costly fines or prosecutions.

The inquiries stem from Airbus’s own disclosure in early 2016 of undisclosed payments to middlemen who helped to secure several contracts, in particular in Asia.

If convicted in the US, it would effectively be shut out of defence and civil aviation contracts for years in the market – which would be a boon for Boeing.

Faury, a married father of three, has spent most of his career in the aerospace industry, specialising in helicopters.

He started his career in the French defence ministry before joining Airbus’ helicopter division in 1998.

In 2009, he left for a four-year stint in research and development at French car group Peugeot before rejoining Airbus.

In February 2018, he became head of the civil aviation division, the company’s biggest and most high-profile, which is considered the launching pad for the groups’ top job.

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