PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Group (AIR.PA) strategy chief Marwan Lahoud indirectly ruled himself out as the next chief executive of French engine maker Safran (SAF.PA) on Wednesday, dampening recurring media speculation that he could leave Europe's largest aerospace group.
Lahoud, 48, the architect behind recent changes in Airbus Group governance limiting the influence of governments, is often seen as a potential high-flyer outside the group he helped to found and has repeatedly been linked in the press with Safran.
But he sought to put a halt to the speculation through a statement from the group's chief spokesman on Twitter.
"Good news for Airbus Group: Marwan Lahoud stays with us. He is no candidate for Safran CEO," Rainer Ohler, Airbus Group's head of corporate communications, said on his Twitter account.
Lahoud's decision to stay out of the running is unlikely to quell speculation over who might replace aerospace engineer Jean-Paul Herteman, whose mandate at the helm of state-controlled Safran expires in 2015, a year in which he turns 65.
The Airbus spokesman's intervention will also be read in France as coded reinforcement of support for Lahoud from Airbus CEO Tom Enders, following sporadic rumors of a split which resurfaced recently despite regular denials.
At Safran, Herteman has so far declined to comment on whether he will seek to renew his mandate, which would need a change in the age limit at the next shareholder meeting, or seek to stay on as chairman, a role he currently combines with that of CEO.
La Tribune newspaper recently named four internal executives considered ripe for the top job and said the names of two external candidates were also circulating, including those of Lahoud and Pascale Sourisse, head of international development at French defense firm Thales (TCFP.PA).
While Safran insists it is carrying on business as usual, industry sources say the politically sensitive succession at Safran is likely to absorb the industry in coming months and could accelerate a reshuffling of top jobs in French defense.
Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by James Regan