Airbus flies into new era with CEO Faury

The 51-year-old replaces Enders, who is stepping down after 5 years leading the France-based group

By AFP

PARIS • Frenchman Guillaume Faury took (picture) over as CEO of European aerospace giant Airbus SE yesterday, looking to benefit from the current troubles of rival Boeing Co and limit potential disruption from Brexit and US President Donald Trump’s trade threats.

The 51-year-old will replace Tom Enders, who is stepping down after five years leading the France-based group whose 129,000 employees manufacture airliners, helicopters and satellites.

Enders oversaw further expansion of the group, but his r ein w as c louded b y a recent decision to scrap the loss-making A380 superjumbo range of Airbus planes, as well as multiple probes into suspect payments.

The German’s retirement package — worth €37 million (RM171.31 million) including pension and stocks — has sparked controversy in France and a pledge from the government that it will legislate to limit huge corporate payoffs.

Faury will inherit a financially sound, highly profitable business with an orderbook of 7, 350 passenger pla nes, wh ich would be enough to keep factories running for a decade at current production rates.

Analysts see Airbus as having an opportunity to profit from the booming airline market, particularly in Asia, and from the global grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX plane after two recent deadly crashes involving the popular new airliner.

“They simply need to use this window of Boeing weakness to hoover up orders in Asia, if they can,” said aerospace analyst Neil Wilson at Markets.com, an online financial trading platform.

According to the International Air Transport Association, Asia will account for most of growth in the industry over the next 20 years, with more than half of the new passenger traffic coming from the region.

But Faury will also have several tricky issues in his inbox, including handling the fall-out from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU), which threatens to disrupt the company’s long a nd compl icated supply chains.

“Brexit could well mean a complete rethink of long-term manufacturing strategy for Airbus and brave decisions may need to be made unless a satisfactory outcome can be agreed by the UK and Brussels,” independent aviation analyst Howard Wheeldon told AFP.

Enders branded the British government’s handling of Brexit a “disgrace” in January and warned that a “no-deal” exit would led to “very harmful decisions” affecting the production of airline wings in southwest England.

The US is another source of worry for the group after Trump lashed out again at the EU this week, vowing to impose fresh tariffs over subsidies to Airbus.

For more than a decade, Washington and Brussels have accused each other of unfairly subsidising Boeing and Airbus respectively and have fought repeated battles at the World Trade Organisation, which polices global trade rules.

Faury will also be wary of multiple investigations in France, Britain and the US into possible bribes paid to win contracts between 2008 and 2013 that could cause more embarrassment — and lead to costly fines or prosecutions.

The inquiries stem from Airbus’ own disclosure in early 2016 of undisclosed payments to middlemen in securing several contracts, in particular, in Asia.

If convicted in the US, it would effectively be shut out of defence and civil aviation contracts for years — which would be a boon for Boeing.

Faury, a married father of three, took over after a board meeting in Amsterdam yesterday.

He has spent most of his career in the aerospace industry, specialising in helicopters.

He started his career in the French Defence Ministry before joining Airbus’ helicopter division in 1998.

In 2009, he left for a fouryear stint in research and development at French car group Peugeot before rejoining Airbus.

In February 2018, he became head of the civil aviation division, the company’s biggest and most high-profile, which is considered the launching pad for the groups’ top job. — AFP

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