Airbus chief executive Tom Enders says "fresh minds" are needed to take the company through the period from 2020, as he confirmed he would not seek to extend his mandate past April 2019.
His decision is part of a broad shake-up of Airbus's senior management, which will also see Airbus commercial aircraft president Fabrice Bregier step down in February next year.
The changes will coincide with the departure of another major Airbus figure, as chief operating officer for customers John Leahy retires.
Enders has steered Airbus for 14 years, serving as co-chief of EADS before taking over the commercial aircraft division a decade ago.
He subsequently took over as sole EADS chief in 2012, with Fabrice Bregier stepping up to the chief executive position at Airbus.
Enders embarked on a corporate transformation of the company which involved EADS dropping its unwieldy name and adopting the more prominent Airbus brand.
This transformation also resulted in shifts in responsibility for Bregier, whose chief executive role at the commercial aircraft division – the most significant part of Airbus – was redefined. He became chief operating officer and commercial aircraft president, a move which underlined that Airbus would have only one chief as part of a simplified management structure.
Enders has overseen the development of the Airbus A350, the re-engining programmes which created the A320neo and A330neo, and has had to deal with the difficulties associated with the slow-selling flagship A380.
But he has also had to cope with the fallout from persistent fraud allegations against the company, investigations into which have hung over Airbus during the past two years.
Enders says that serving with Airbus has been a "privilege" but says this "comes with a responsibility to support a smooth succession when the time is ripe".
"It’s been a long and exciting journey but now is the time to initiate a leadership change," he says. "We need fresh minds for the 2020s."
While no potential successor has been named, Bregier has already ruled himself out of a line-up. He will step down within the next three months – after 25 years in various leadership roles – to pursue other interests.
"I feel the time is right to pursue other opportunities outside," he says. "I have been fully dedicated to Airbus and to its success during all these years, and up to my departure next year I will remain focused on meeting Airbus’ commitments to all stakeholders and on ensuring a smooth handover to my successor."
That successor will be Guillaume Faury, the head of Airbus Helicopters, a position in which Bregier had also previously served when the company was still known as Eurocopter.
Faury says he is "honoured" to take on the role of leading the "inspiring" commercial aircraft division. No successor to lead Airbus Helicopters lead has yet been named.
Enders says he "understands" Bregier's decision not to chase the top Airbus post. "I would not have done differently," he says, adding that Bregier has made an "outstanding contribution" to the "excellence and competitiveness" of Airbus.
Airbus chairman Denis Ranque says the board "fully supports" Enders' decision to stay on to lead the company through the process towards his succession in 2019. Ranque adds that the board "understands" Bregier's choice, after a long period serving Airbus, to "use this opportunity of change" to step away.