Airbus chief executive Thomas Enders has talked of the "natural tension" between the company's "need to go global" and pressure from stakeholder governments to preserve jobs and technology in Europe.

Speaking after meeting ministers from France, Germany, Spain and the UK in Berlin to secure an agreement in principle for launch aid for the A350 XWB, Enders insisted Airbus had to break free from its legacy as a consortium of the industrial champions of its four founding countries.

This is partly because Airbus wants to win favour in its fastest-growing markets - in Asia and the Middle East - by establishing an industrial footprint there, and partly because it must reduce its exposure to the strong euro, which erodes its dollar revenues.

"This is a company that needs to go global," he said in one of the company's strongest statements to date on the subject. "We must start thinking outside the European box."

One of the key challenges Airbus faces at home and abroad is finding skilled employees. The airframer plans to recruit 500 engineers throughout the world this year to staff new research and design centres in China, India, Russia and the USA as well as six facilities in Europe. "In Europe, the resources are not sufficient to meet demand," he said. "All across our industry we are facing a skills issue."

Enders' views were echoed by his boss, EADS chief executive Louis Gallois. Under the company's Vision 2020 strategy, EADS plans to reduce its dependence on Airbus - which accounts for 65% of its revenues - and aircraft, by becoming a more systems- and services-oriented business. Like its subsidiary it plans to become less reliant on its home market for its revenues and workforce. "At the moment, we are too much Airbus, too much platforms and too much Europe," said Gallois.

EADS's push into the US defence market is central to this ambition. After winning the US tanker deal with partner Northrop Grumman, the company is keen to acquire businesses there, particularly in the product support and systems integration fields.

Despite Airbus's success with orders and deliveries in the past few years, the strengthening euro has forced Airbus to ramp up further its Power8 cost-cutting programme.

A key part of that project began to unravel earlier this year when negotiations fell through to sell structures plants in France and Germany to Latécoère and MT Aerospace, respectively. Enders said Airbus would continue with plans to hive off the facilities into autonomous business units, but that no moves would be made to sell the sites for another two years.

The combination of the divestment of the structures plants - GKN is likely to successfully conclude a deal shortly to take over part of Filton in the UK - and Airbus's global industrial strategy has led to some politicians and media, in France particularly, to accuse Airbus of "outsourcing" jobs to cheaper labour markets.

However, Peter Hintze, the German minister responsible for Airbus, said that the company could "only be competitive if it keeps its European roots but internationalises to a much greater degree [by setting up] engineering and development facilities in growth markets".

Despite the agreement in principle at Berlin for launch aid, Enders also made clear that Airbus had not applied to any of the four governments for development funding for the A350 XWB and that no decisions had been taken by the ministers to allocate money. "Development [of the aircraft] is ongoing and is being financed by Airbus and its shareholders," he said. Hintze said he hoped a package of funding could be agreed "quickly".

Source: Flight International