Executive changes fail to sway Airbus customers

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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Some of Airbus’s biggest customers are warning that ousting its top two bosses is not enough to restore the European airframer’s battered credibility in the wake of delays to the A380 and indecision over how to respond to Boeing’s 787.

In a blow to attempts by new chief executive Christian Streiff and his boss, EADS co-chief executive Tom Enders, to draw a line under troubles at the Toulouse-based manufacturer and its parent, two major customers have spoken out about the management overhaul and resignations of Nöel Forgeard and Gustav Humbert a week ago.

Tim Clark, president of the largest A380 customer, Emirates, says: “I’m not sure they go far enough. The deep-rooted problems will not be solved by high-level cosmetics.” The Dubai-based airline has 45 of the ultra-large airliners on order, but deliveries are a year behind schedule and the first Emirates A380 will not enter service until January 2008.

While Clark believes the departure of EADS co-chief executive Forgeard was “inevitable”, he thinks Humbert, his successor as Airbus chief executive, was a victim of the “political labyrinth” existing between the French and German elements of EADS.

A senior source within another major Airbus operator says the company’s attitude to customers “still lacks focus”. Aside from tensions between the two main national stakeholders, sources also claim there has been a damaging disconnect between the engineering department and the sales and marketing operation.

A380 launch customer Singapore Airlines (SIA) – whose plans to introduce the type during 2007 will also be heavily disrupted by the new schedule – is more sanguine. “The developments at Airbus are regrettable and we will work with the new management to minimise the impact of the A380 delays,” says SIA chief executive Chew Choon Seng. The Asian airline has 10 aircraft on firm order, plus 15 options.

Airbus is still expected to unveil its plans for the redesigned A350 at the Farnborough air show. One senior source at a potential customer airline says the impact of any Airbus announcement will be diluted because “their credibility has been shot to pieces”. Airbus’s potentially no-win situation is highlighted by another customer, who says that if the airframer does not declare its hand, it will be “seen as a lack of commitment”.