April 11, 2019 / 12:29 PM / 7 days ago

New Airbus CEO charts modernisation path under leaner management

PARIS (Reuters) - New Chief Executive Guillaume Faury imposed his mark on Airbus with a simplified management structure and a manifesto for factory modernisation on Thursday, as Europe’s plane giant enters a new phase in its titanic rivalry with Boeing.

President of Airbus Commercial Aircraft Guillaume Faury attends the Airbus annual general meeting in Amsterdam, Netherlands April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

The 51-year-old former planemaking head unveiled the changes a day after the retirement of Tom Enders, the last of the company’s founders to leave the scene of recent power battles.

“We are in a period of exceptional change in our industry and we need to prepare Airbus for the opportunities and challenges ahead,” Faury said in a statement.

“We will utilise new digital technologies to optimise our industrial system,” he added.

Airbus was until recently a very public battleground for Franco-German industrial rivalries and personal power struggles, but Faury stayed out of the spotlight as Enders quarrelled with then planemaking chief Fabrice Bregier.

Faury, who moved over from the helicopters unit to run the planes division when Bregier fell last year, on Thursday eliminated the post from a new 12-person executive panel lifting engineering, communications and sales to the top table.

Airbus celebrates its 50th anniversary as a planemaker this year and its 20th since the announcement of a pan-European merger that resulted in the creation of a wider Franco-German aerospace company, now integrated back into Airbus itself.

The new shake-up effectively completes that transition.

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Airbus is expected to shift away from the adventurist spirit and public baiting of U.S. rival Boeing of earlier years to a focus on advanced production methods increasingly imported from the car industry, where Faury spent four years in senior manufacturing and research roles at Peugeot maker PSA Group.

The methodical former military flight test engineer set out his priorities to shareholders on Wednesday.

“I see fantastic challenges...we have to invent new production systems and leverage the power of data,” Faury said.

Airbus has a huge list of orders for its A320neo, which competes with Boeing’s currently grounded 737 MAX, but snags and supplier delays are delaying schedules.

Insiders say Faury hopes to prepare Airbus for a new type of strategic battle with Boeing and their future competitor China, focussing at least as much on leaner, more robotic production methods as lavishly staged order announcements.

His immediate priority will be to settle and remotivate Airbus’ 130,000 staff after a multi-national bribery probe and internal investigation, now in its fourth year, as well as the recent decision to end production of the flagship A380.

Faury heads a mainly new team following scheduled retirements and an ongoing board-led clearout as Airbus responds to pressure to re-invent itself in order to win a settlement and avoid charges in the bribery probe.

No Airbus executives have been accused of wrongdoing, but a British judge said when setting fines for Rolls-Royce in 2017 that firms hoping to win such settlements must effectively become a different company with new management.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that more than 100 people were dismissed for ethics and compliance reasons last year, fuelling internal accusations of a witch hunt. Airbus declined to comment.

Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Kirsten Donovan

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