May 15, 2019 / 3:27 PM / 6 days ago

MBDA boss faces battle of wits as Airbus strategy chief

PARIS (Reuters) - The chief executive of European missile maker MBDA is returning to Airbus as head of strategy as the planemaker seeks to modernize its factories and explore future options in defense.

FILE PHOTO: The Airbus logo is pictured at Airbus headquarters in Blagnac near Toulouse, France, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

Antoine Bouvier, 59, replaces Patrick de Castelbajac who becomes head of Airbus Asia-Pacific, Airbus said in a statement. Castelbajac’s responsibility for Airbus international operations had already been transferred to sales chief Christian Scherer.

At Airbus, Bouvier will be embarking on a battle of wits with a new opposite number at arch-rival Boeing Co.

Chris Raymond, until recently head of Autonomous Systems, has been named Boeing’s group-wide vice-president for enterprise strategy under finance director Greg Smith, Boeing said in his biography on its website, confirming a Reuters report.

Bouvier’s appointment is the latest evidence of a management shake-up at Airbus, accelerated by the promotion last month of planemaking chief Guillaume Faury to CEO.

A former civil servant who narrowly missed out on running France’s DGA defense procurement agency two years ago, Bouvier brings experience in forging defense partnerships to Airbus, which is embroiled in a row with Germany over arms controls.

He will be replaced at MBDA by former OneWeb chief Eric Beranger.

From July 1, Castelbajac will also assume responsibility for Asia sales, recently a key battleground with Boeing.

China Airlines last week announced a leasing deal expected to pave the way for the Taiwan carrier to switch its medium-haul fleet to the Airbus A320neo rather than the Boeing 737 MAX.

The deal to replace older 737s took years to complete and was drafted before the 737 MAX was engulfed by a crisis involving two crashes and a worldwide grounding.

Although day-to-day competition remains intense, Airbus seems wary of over-exploiting the 737 MAX problems, fearing they could destabilize the market and supply chains, some industry sources say. A U.S. industry official denied this.

NEXT GENERATION

The future of the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX - the industry’s most successful models - is seen as strategically entwined and insiders say Airbus is also worried about the impact of the grounding on global certification..

Decisions on what replaces the current generation of single-aisle jets from about 2030 and how they are built could define the aircraft industry well into the second half of the century.

Early planning of those models will be a major topic for strategists at both Airbus and Boeing in coming years.

Insiders say Faury wants Airbus to focus on industrial strategy and closing a perceived gap with Boeing in production technology, as well as the threat of increased environmental regulation, when designing new products.

Airbus must also assess how to respond to rising defense spending after its failure to merge with Britain’s BAE Systems in 2012 left it heavily skewed toward commercial markets that are now approaching the end of an extended upcycle.

It is involved on the German side of a nascent Franco-German fighter project along with French partner Dassault Aviation but faces competition for valuable systems work and a growing spat with the German government over export controls.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of MBDA Missile Systems is seen at Euronaval, the world naval defence exhibition in Le Bourget near Paris, France, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

At MBDA, Bouvier was credited with driving an Anglo-French agreement on the use of shared missile technology.

Bouvier followed the classic path of a French mandarin from prestigious Polytechnique engineering school to ENA civil service academy. He had been linked to top posts at suppliers such as Safran and Thales, although was not hired.

“His appointment will be very credible with the French government,” a person familiar with the appointment said. France and Germany own 11 percent each of Airbus.

Reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Matthew Lewis

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