September 28, 2018 / 11:42 AM / in 24 days

Exclusive: Insider favored as Airbus speeds up CEO search - sources

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus is moving swiftly toward appointing planemaking head Guillaume Faury as its next chief executive after accelerating the search for a successor to outgoing Tom Enders to address a growing leadership vacuum, people familiar with the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: Airbus Commercial Aircraft President Guillaume Faury poses during the unveiling of an Airbus A220-300 aircraft after its landing in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

The board could announce a decision within weeks, ahead of its end-year target, as the European planemaker juggles a trio of pressures from management changes, industrial delays and a paralyzing corruption probe, they said.

Airbus (AIR.PA) declined comment.

Faury, 50, was appointed head of the core planemaking business last December after Fabrice Bregier agreed to quit following a power battle with Enders, in a shake-up that also saw Enders draw back from plans to seek a third term in 2019.

The main external candidate, Thales (TCFP.PA) Chief Executive Patrice Caine, is reluctant to leave the French defense company but could do so if asked to by the French government, reports say.

FILE PHOTO: Airbus Commercial Aircraft President Guillaume Faury poses during the unveiling of an Airbus A220-300 aircraft after ist landing in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

The timing of the transition was not immediately clear, but two sources familiar with Airbus said it had not been excluded that Faury would become CEO as early as this year, advancing plans for a May 2019 handover.

The board could make a final decision by a Nov 13 meeting.

Enders plans to step down when his mandate expires in May after launching the company’s digital transformation. His former rival Bregier was named on Friday as head of the French unit of Palantir, the U.S. data analytics firm powering that strategy.

INDUSTRIAL PROBLEMS

Faury, who accompanied the board this week to China, has been seen as the top internal candidate to replace Enders since Bregier’s exit. Pressure to end uncertainty grew with the resignation of the Airbus sales chief this month.

Faury has had less than a year to establish himself at the main business after previously running helicopters.

“He has won his spurs at Airbus (Commercial Aircraft). He is an industrialist who knows the issues and technology,” a source familiar with the discussions said.

The soft-spoken, frugal French engineer will nonetheless have to tackle industrial problems that could weigh on cash generation and the pace of further production increases.

Besides delays on the A320neo plane, Airbus now faces a rash of quality problems as a new assembly line beds down in Germany, prompting Faury to tell staff this month that it risked losing customer confidence, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Quality problems can add costs and further delays.

Shares in Airbus, whose main rival is Boeing (BA.N), were down 0.7 percent at 108.12 euros on Friday, although they remain near record highs as production targets so far remain intact.

Faury will also need to restore morale shattered by a probe into the use of middlemen, now in its third year and which has left management sidelined as the board pilots the inquiry.

If confirmed, his hiring could eventually herald changes in the board, where French chairman Denis Ranque retires in 2020. Airbus usually divides chairman and CEO jobs between French and German nationals, though the ability of Paris and Berlin governments to influence that balance openly was halted in 2013.

Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta

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