December 14, 2017 / 7:51 PM / 7 months ago

Airbus planemaking chief Bregier to leave in February: sources

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus (AIR.PA) planemaking chief Fabrice Bregier plans to leave the aerospace group after the board intervened to resolve tensions over the future succession to Chief Executive Tom Enders, sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO - Fabrice Bregier applauds after the maiden flight of the Airbus A350-1000 in Colomiers near Toulouse, Southwestern France, November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Bregier will be replaced in February at the helm of the main planemaking division by Guillaume Faury, the 49-year-old head of Airbus Helicopters, who is not, however, expected to inherit Bregier’s broader title as chief operating officer, they added.

Airbus declined to comment.

The shake-up, to be announced before markets open on Friday, was agreed at a board meeting on Thursday following weeks of tensions inside Europe’s largest aerospace group.

It comes a day after a source told Reuters a change of governance could not be excluded before end-year.

On Wednesday, Bregier said he was “surprised” by reports that his position was under threat and said his sole priority was to ensure Airbus met targets.

Bregier, 56, is credited with stabilizing industrial problems at the world’s second largest planemaker and is in charge of delivering on a record order backlog that underpins near-record share prices. He also oversaw a key sale to Japan and negotiated a recent deal to rescue an order from Qatar.

Despite a long-running personal rivalry, Bregier was long assumed to be the heir apparent to Enders, whose own future in Airbus is uncertain amid indications that he has changed his mind about seeking a third mandate beyond 2019.

But following a board-commissioned review of potential candidates and a spike in management tensions, Bregier’s long-awaited promotion appeared to be in question and the usually cautious engineer appeared frustrated, two insiders said.

Others saw a more deliberate move by Enders to oust Bregier

CHANGING OF GUARD

Tensions between the two men came to a head this year in a row over who should control the powerful jet sales department, first reported by Reuters.

But the fate of the two executives, long seen as the power duo in European aviation, is said by many to be intertwined.

“This is the first step in the changing of the guard at Airbus: Bregier leaving must also signal the beginning of the end for Enders,” an industry source said.

In the shorter term, it may be seen as a respite for Enders, whose position had been weakened by media coverage and the departure of unpopular former technology chief Paul Eremenko.

Bregier could not be reached for comment. He has been linked with energy firm Engie, where he is on the board (ENGIE.PA).

His departure comes as Airbus braces for the retirement of sales boss John Leahy, who bookended his career on Thursday with the sale of 100 jets to Delta, 31 years after his first deal to sell 100 to what is now part of the same airline.

The management row has played out in a febrile climate caused by international fraud investigations over commercial and military sales and fears of a slew of further departures.

Two sources said Frenchman Bregier had sought support from the French government, mirroring recent backing from Berlin for German-born Enders, or appealed to Airbus’ French chairman, Denis Ranque.

The Airbus board has been under pressure to demonstrate its independence following a backlash in France over the handling of a compliance crackdown. Recent turmoil has tested a 2013 deal to tame the influence of European governments, one of whose authors, Emmanuel Macron, is now France’s president.

A spokesman for the French government, which like the German government owns 11 percent of Airbus, declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey; editing by Laurence Frost and Leslie Adler

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