The only practical solution to the strategic stalemate at European airliner Airbus is for its parent company, EADS, to become a freely-owned group like British rival BAE Systems and American peer Boeing, former Airbus boss Jean Pierson said.
Only if anchor shareholders Lagardère, the French publisher, and DaimlerChrysler, the German car-maker, reduce their dominant EADS stakes will Airbus be able to run its business free of national concerns, he told the FT’s French sister newspaper Les Echos in an interview.
The only other solution, which would raise many difficulties, would be to revert to ownership of the production assets by the former Airbus partners who now control EADS.
“EADS is a company in a catastrophic state,” said Mr Pierson, who as Airbus chief executive grew the manufacturer’s share of the world airliner market from 17 to 40 per cent between 1985 and 1998 . “The present situation is destined to remain a stalemate.”
The best solution, he said, would be “the dilution of the current shareholders to allow the exit of Lagardère and of DaimlerChrysler, who no longer have anything to do with aerospace, and a search for national or international financial partners so as to pull the company towards a normal system of governance, like that at Boeing or BAE Systems”.
Mr Pierson spoke as the German co-chairman of EADS, Manfred Bischoff, sought to calm tensions caused by a three-day EADS boardroom stalemate over the division between French and German sites of work on a future Airbus wide-body jet, the A350.
The dispute has blocked the announcement of a sweeping Airbus restructuring plan, called Power 8, which is expected to cost at least 10,000 jobs, a fifth of the Airbus workforce. That follows a management crisis last year triggered by cost over-runs and delays as the company’s new A380 super-jumbo was put into production.
But Mr Pierson said the tensions between German and French lobbies were an inevitable consequence of the staged conversion of Airbus from a Groupement d’Intérêt Economique to a wholly-owned EADS subsidiary, completed by the withdrawal of former partner BAE last year.
“From the moment you create an unbalanced industrial entity controlled through industrial parity and co-governance, you reap what we have today,” he said.
Every new aircraft programme at Airbus, and every occasion when difficulties had to be shared, had been seized upon by the German partners as a chance to negotiate for a bigger share of the work, Mr Pierson said. Frequently they had forced the French to make concessions, though previously the presence of British and Spanish owner stakeholders had helped counter German demands.
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