Embattled EADS co-CEO Noël Forgeard this morning defended his own conduct in an interview on French radio station Europe 1, discussed at length how the latest A380 delays came about, and gave the first indication that he believes the problems arose away from the Toulouse final assembly line.

Below is a near-complete transcript of his responses to presenter Jean-Pierre Elkabbach during the interview conducted originally in French.

On whether Airbus has been hiding or misleading the industry:

Building an aircraft is a complex job. Manufacturing the world’s biggest aircraft is a very complex job and manufacturing the first of its kind is extremely complex. One must not forget that the aircraft has been built; it flies; it is a technological marvel. 152 models have been sold and all test pilots that have flown it to date find it extraordinary. One must realise that we are at the start of a mass production of a brand new aircraft; still undergoing ground- and flight-testing and that, as a result, the technical documents required for the manufacturing of the aircraft on the assembly are constantly being updated, modified, etc. As a result a backlog has built up and admittedly somehow there has been an issue with the system used to report backlogs. As a result of this it has taken a considerable amount of time for our teams to realise how big the bottlenecks were and to report on the status of those delays.

On when the teams reported that nothing could be done to catch up on these bottlenecks:

During April 2006.

On when he was able to inform his co-presidents:

As soon as I found out of course. Let me tell you that our majority shareholder in France, Arnaud Lagardere, reported in a meeting in May that it would be possible for our manufacturing plant to catch up any delays.

On the 1 June announcement that there was nothing to suggest any delays with the aircraft, so is someone not telling the truth:

In reality I was involved in an in-depth study of the situation with Airbus since we were made aware of the issues in April, whose conclusions could only be drawn on 13 June, which we published on the day.

On major EADS shareholder Arnaud Lagardère’s comments that this is a major crisis:

Of course it is, mainly because of the financial impact you referred to earlier [the 25% drop in share price] so it is to some extent a major crisis. But I hope that the term of ‘deep crisis’ will not shock listeners too much as it is just one event, since most of the important aircraft programmes in our industry have incurred delays. Boeing does also fall into that category I’m afraid. In 1997 for instance it had to close its production line for more than a month - complete closure. I could give you many other examples in Europe.

On whether Airbus’s internal warning system did not work properly:

Evidently. Of course, otherwise we would have been made aware of the issues much sooner.

On which manufacturing location sparked the biggest issues – Toulouse, Hamburg or St Nazaire:

Well these issues do tend to come from upstream manufacturing plants responsible for building pre-equipped sections of the aircraft. St Nazaire and Hamburg. There has been quite a considerable build-up of issues in Hamburg. The delays are seen on the assembly line mainly because aircraft sections arrive relatively unequipped and this means that any or all modifications to those parts have to be undertaken at the assembly line.

On the desire of French and German politicians to see A380 aircraft built 100% equally in both countries and whether this would have helped the current situation:

No. Our manufacturing procedures are comparable to those of Boeing. Boeing’s are even more spread out than ours. So the spreading of our factories across Europe is by no means responsible for the situation we face today.

On how many A380s, realistically, Airbus will be able to deliver in 2007:

About nine. I must also point out that in that time we will deliver approximately 450 aircraft in total which translates into an average of one a day. So, of course we have the A380, but we also have the extremely popular A320 family as well as A330, A340 with record numbers to be delivered this year and even more next year.

On whether Airbus is using these other aircraft deliveries to console itself, not taking the A380 seriously enough:

No, I’m only saying this as I believe that over the past 30 years thanks to the work and effort of pioneering engineers we have managed to create an extraordinary company. I have had the chance and been given the honour of being able to head this extraordinary company from 1998 to 2005. As you know I have not managed it for a year or so now. But in any case this isn’t the first hurdle Airbus has had to overcome in its history.

On whether any customers have cancelled any orders to date in the light of the announcements of the delays stating that in these circumstances they will go for the Boeing aircraft:

No. None of the orders have been cancelled to date.

On whether there are signs of recovery for Airbus in terms of manufacturing:

Of course. Since we have been made aware of these issues in April we have been working flat out to identify areas that we can improve upon. We are doing it with the co-operation of a very large consultancy – Mckinsey - so a strategy is currently being implemented. This will most likely involve some organisational and staff measures but I will reserve the right of the EADS board of directors to comment further on this.

On whether all the staff that have not done their jobs properly will be part of the change:

I believe that it is much more important to define solutions rather than being involved in a witch hunt. I have for one always identified myself with a) finding solutions b) the future. Finding people to blame is not really within my culture. As Jean-Luc Lagardere always says: “one can be allowed to make a mistake but generally and preferably one must not repeat that mistake”.

On the fact that this is the second announcement of A380 delays:

Yes, there has been one delay that amounts to a total of one year.

On whether, in the light of Arnaud Lagardere’s comment that a very detailed investigation would be needed, there is likely to be an audit:

Audit? These are big words. I’m not sure if there will be an audit. And anyway EADS is quite a complex organisation. There are sufficient directors. We have two presidents, two general directors, two deputy directors and a president for Airbus so it is complicated, very complicated. All I can say is that since the issues have been highlighted in April I have been working very closely with the Airbus president and his team to help define solutions. Yes, he is German, and a friend of mine. And I can guarantee you that of all the management I am probably the one who has rolled up his sleeves the most to find a remedy to this current crisis. The team leading the A380 programme in Toulouse is not to blame for the delays. However in other factories some responsibilities will need to be identified and changed.

On his personal responsibility:

Absolutely I have nothing to hide.

On whether he was aware of new delays when he sold shares in March:

Absolutely not, since as mentioned earlier, the issues were only discovered in April and as Arnaud Lagardère said yesterday, until the end of May we believed the issues could still be resolved.

On when he found out that shareholder Lagardere was planning to reduce its stake from 15% to 7.5%

At a meeting in Munich on 20 March [after Forgeard’s share transactions, at those of his children, on 9 and 15 March.]

On whether he thinks someone is deliberately “out to get him”:

It’s possible. That doesn’t particularly interest me. What interests me is the recovery of Airbus, the recovery of EADS.

On whether the media attacks and calls for explanations this morning made him want to give up or resign:

Absolutely not. Giving up is not one of my personality traits at all. As for the calls for information: everything has been transparent, in real time, the same day, on the web. If there is an investigation, the documents are available and will be shown.

On whether, following calls from politicians and the media for more transparency, he would fear an investigation by the AMF:

Of course not, there is nothing to hide. All documents are at the disposal of the relevant authorities. In particular, the minutes of internal meetings which show in black and white that the situation was only laid out on the table in mid-April.

On whether the aircraft will become more expensive because of the present crisis:

They will not be more expensive but unfortunately they will cost more [for Airbus.] We can’t make our aircraft more expensive because the costs are higher. We take on the difference.

On when the production schedule for the A380 will get back to normal:

The rhythm will I hope, get back to normal, around the second half of 2008, but this needs to be finalised. I hope in 2008 that we will deliver around 40 aircraft and then A380 deliveries should grow to around 50-52 by 2009/2010.

On whether Boeing benefits from the current crisis at Airbus:

There are cycles – no one can have the top spot all the time. At the moment, the relative advantage is more Boeing’s than ours.The qualities that have allowed Airbus to get to the point where it is now are the same qualities and values that will allow us to get past the current difficulties. This isn’t something I think, a conviction. This is a certainty.

On whether the company will overcome the present difficulties with or without him:

I would like to stay and make my contribution. I have spent a large part of my life with this company…but it is not a decision for me. It is a decision for the shareholders.

Source: Flight International