Airbus reshuffle prepares planemaker for record jet output

Wed Dec 17, 2014 5:22pm EST
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By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - A management reshuffle at Airbus (AIR.PA: Quote) this week marks another step towards focusing Europe's biggest aerospace company on industrial performance rather than the political interests of key shareholders France and Germany, industry sources said.

But Tuesday's announcement also includes a nod towards national sensitivities, while not letting these dominate the choice of industrial leadership as Airbus prepares to crank up production to meet an 8-year waiting list, they said.

The Airbus Group (AIR.PA: Quote) jetmaking subsidiary's appointment of British aerospace veteran Tom Williams as chief operating officer, with a seat on the group executive committee, marks the first time a Briton has reached that level.

It is the first time, too, that someone without a French or German passport has occupied the no.2 slot at the Airbus subsidiary, a post formerly reserved for the main shareholder countries under a power-sharing scheme only recently abandoned.

People familiar with the company said Williams, 62, is the ultimate safe pair of hands and the obvious industrial successor to Gunter Butschek, who has resigned.

Airbus has said it no longer matters what nationality its executives are, in contrast to in-fighting that marred the first decade after it was founded as EADS in 2000.

But analysts say Airbus remains conscious of national sensitivities and changes announced to staff by Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier, "in agreement with (group CEO) Tom Enders," reflect this without dropping the message that the once politically tarnished group has become a "normal" company.

A miscue last week by the finance director Harald Wilhelm over the future of the A380, mentioning scenarios including cancellation, raised political eyebrows and prompted some analysts to ask whether Airbus divisions were resurfacing.   Continued...

Airbus's company logo is pictured at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, December 4, 2014.  REUTERS/ Regis Duvignau