Exclusive-Airbus nears decision on new planemaking leadership – sources

By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) – Airbus is pushing ahead with plans to name a new internal head of its commercial aircraft business, effectively recreating a separate civil jetliner division with the list of candidates widening to include sales chief Christian Scherer.

Industry sources said a final decision on the shake-up was likely in coming weeks, capping weeks of speculation after Reuters reported the looming reorganisation in July.

Chief Executive Guillaume Faury has combined the roles of group chief executive and head of the world’s largest civil planemaking activity since stepping up to the top job in 2019.

But global supply disruption since the pandemic, a shifting geopolitical landscape amid war in Ukraine and concerns over Europe’s autonomy in space after launcher delays have multiplied the strategic priorities for the French CEO over the past year.

Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even had earlier been cited as a possible candidate for the top planemaking role.

But the focus of speculation has widened to Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer, a veteran of the Airbus planemaking business who has also had stints at the Defence division and in running turboprop joint-venture ATR, industry sources said.

His appointment would herald broad continuity at the company’s main planemaking business, which accounts for most of the company’s revenue.

Airbus declined to comment on internal organisational matters. Its last annual report said its board, which would have to approve major management changes, is closely monitoring succession planning.

INDUSTRIAL CHALLENGES

Discussion of Airbus’ management structure can be sensitive because of a history of internal disputes, especially between previous executives in comparable roles, and intersecting past tensions between minority shareholders France and Germany.

Most industry experts say Airbus is no longer mainly politically driven or prone to in-fighting, following an agreement to cap state interference a decade ago.

Governance concerns have cooled under Faury, whose tenure has been marked by post-COVID efforts to meet rising jet demand and public unity over moves to speed industrial transformation and the company’s response to concerns over carbon emissions.

In late July, analysts at Jefferies welcomed the possible division of roles.

German-born Scherer was among those credited with laying the foundations for the best-selling A320neo and led negotiations to place an assembly line in the United States, and later to buy the A220 jet programme from Canada’s Bombardier.

Major strategic decisions facing him in coming years would include whether to go ahead with an A220 upgrade and laying the groundwork for the next generation of single-aisle jets.

But analysts say the immediate challenges are industrial, including reaching a target of 720 deliveries this year.

Airbus must also navigate a growing crisis at engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a key supplier.

As part of a separate reorganisation code-named Project ATOM, the Airbus Defence & Space unit plans to combine Military Air Systems with FCAS, Reuters reported earlier this week.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Editing by Louise Heavens)

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