Airbus, Safran create space launch joint venture

Mon Jun 16, 2014 6:42am EDT
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By Tim Hepher and Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Group and Safran confirmed plans on Monday to combine work on space launchers, accelerating efforts to fend off a growing threat to Europe's Ariane space rocket from U.S. low-cost rival SpaceX.

The move is the first step towards consolidation after Airbus Group's chief executive Tom Enders, speaking exclusively to Reuters last month, called for a fundamental rethink of the complex way Europe designs and builds launchers.

Executives discussed the new venture with French president Francois Hollande, who called it a "major step" towards consolidation while underscoring the importance of 16,000 Ariane jobs in France - a number that many analysts expect to come under pressure as Europe slashes the cost of space launches.

"The space sector is changing fast. That is why we need to do things differently and alter the way we share our efforts and responsibilities," Safran's chief executive, Jean-Paul Herteman, said after the meeting at the French presidential palace, which was also attended by senior French space agency officials.

"This is absolutely indispensable ... in order to complete successfully the family of launchers for the future," he said.

Airbus and Safran shares were both up around 0.4 percent, while the CAC40 index was down 0.2 percent.

Reuters reported the move towards closer industrial co-operation on Sunday.

The companies said the joint-venture would combine Airbus Group's launch systems with Safran's propulsion systems, but hinted at broader integration of public and private activities in an effort to duplicate the success of planemaker Airbus.   Continued...

Jean-Paul Herteman (R), Chief Executive Officer of Safran and Marwan Lahoud, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer of Airbus Group leave at the end of a meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris, June 16, 2014. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer