Europe's Arianespace commercial-launcher venture is embroiled in a board-room power struggle over the appointment of a successor for long-standing chairman Charles Bigot, with French space agency CNES attempting to push through its own candidate against the firm's wishes.

The company is reported to have been infuriated by CNES attempts, being backed by the French Government, to give the job to European Space Agency (ESA) director-general Jean-Marie Luton. Arianespace has had long-term plans to replace Bigot, who retires in July, with its director general and chief operating officer, Francis Avanzi.

Avanzi, former president of the CFM International aero-engine manufacturer, was hired by Bigot in September 1995 with the intention of grooming him for the top job, and the Arianespace board has unanimously supported his eventual appointment.

French space minister Francois Fillon has now told Avanzi that he will not get the job. Luton would step down early from ESA, where his positionwould be filled by Alenia Spazio's Antonio Rodota.

Although CNES is Arianespace's leading shareholder, with a 32% stake, supporters of Avanzi point out that the company is a successful commercial operation, with shareholders from 12 other countries. French industry, which holds 55% of shares, is understood to be largely in favour of Avanzi, as a strong business leader, rather than a civil servant.

"Who is running this European company - the French Government?" asks a highly placed executive. "This isn't about politics, it is about who is best to lead this highly successful, international, commercial company," he adds.

Source: Flight International