Insider-trading claims mar Airbus chief's visit

By Grant Bradley

A meet and greet visit to Auckland by the head of Airbus has been dogged by renewed reports about insider trading claims made against him and other company officials.

Airbus chief executive Tom Enders told a media briefing an investigation by French authorities was driven by conspiracy theories and he was confident allegations would be refuted.

"Our names are dragged into the mud - we are sitting ducks. So we hope very much that these accusations now come into the open, and then the managers know what they are accused of, so we can defend ourselves."

French web news service Mediapart said on Tuesday that French regulators were probing 17 officials, including Enders, to see if they had sold off shares in light of inside information they had about production delays for the A380 superjumbo two years ago.

Enders said he had no problem with French authorities investigating his share transactions.

"I know I have done no wrong-doing and I say the same for all the managers who are supposedly involved," he said.

Mediapart sourced its report to the regulators, France's Financial Markets Authority or AMF.

Enders called the leaks "shocking" and "unacceptable".

"We will defend our reputation and our rights to be presumed innocent with all means at our disposal.

"The investigation has been conducted by people who know nothing about our business and are driven by a conspiracy theory," he said.

Enders and chief operating officer John Leahy on Tuesday met chiefs of Air New Zealand which operates single aisle A320s on short haul flights.

"We hope to do more business with Air New Zealand in the future," Enders said.

Leahy said Airbus may post a drop in new orders this year because of the credit crunch and higher fuel costs.

Orders will probably slow to about 750 planes from a record 1341 last year.

RIVALS UNDERSTAND BOEING'S PLANE PAIN

Airbus chiefs have offered sympathy to arch-rival Boeing which faces yet more delays to its 787 aircraft.

Boeing was last night expected to announce that the plane may not enter service until the end of 2009 - up to 18 months later than planned - due to production problems.

Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said the two-year delay his company endured with the super jumbo A380 meant he could sympathise.

"We have reason to be humble - we had a big screwup on the 380. It underlines how complex building large commercial aircraft is particularly if you want to integrate a lot of the new technologies and advances.

"I think if there's anyone in the world who can understand what Boeing is going through it is us at Airbus."

Chief operating officer John Leahy said he did not expect any Boeing delays to benefit the planned A350 - which will compete directly with the 787 - unless there were fundamental concept problems at the rival.

"We're sold out for several years with our A350 aircraft ... We stumbled with our A380 with about a two-year delay, and it looks like they're stumbling a bit with some of the same problems on their 787," said Leahy.

"I don't think it will give any real competitive advantage at this point."

Leahy said Boeing would iron out problems eventually.

"I think the thing to watch is whether it's a delay just for industrial processes as we had with the A380 or whether they're making changes to the design."

- Additional reporting Agencies

- NZ Herald

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