The director general of CNES, Gérard Brachet, has offered to reduce the French space agency's stake in Arianespace by some 12% to "around 20%", to open up the possibility of new shareholders joining the European launcher consortium.

The move is part of what may turn out to be a radical reshaping of Arianespace as the organisation attempts to improve dramatically its efficiency and cut the cost of satellite launches by up to 50%.

Aerospatiale president Yves Michot has made it clear that a major reorganised operation would be needed before the company could consider increasing its 7.7% shareholding. In a scathing attack on the structure, he describes Arianespace as having "too many actors and a bad industrial organisation".

French companies hold 55.5% of the consortium, of which the 32% held by CNES is the largest. Engine and equipment builder Snecma holds 7.7% and Matra Hautes Technologies has a 3.2% share. Other major shareholders include Daimler-Benz Aerospace and Fiat Avio.

Despite Michot's warning, it is expected that the planned Aerospatiale/Matra merged company is the most likely contender to buy the CNES share.

The alleged poor efficiency at Arianespace has not dented its ability to win contracts. The consortium has been awarded a new contract, from the Indian Space Research Organisation, to launch the Insat 3B communications satellite aboard either an Ariane 4 or 5 booster in 1999.

The company's orderbook now stands at 39 launches.

Source: Flight International