LONDON - Airbus replaced the head of its A380 super-jumbo programme yesterday as BAE Systems prepared to bale out of the embattled European aircraft manufacturer.
Charles Champion has handed over responsibility for the A380 to Mario Heinen, who was previously responsible for the A320 family of narrow-bodied jets.
Champion becomes "special adviser" to new Airbus chief executive Christian Streiff.
There had been speculation he would be forced out of Airbus after the disastrous profit warning from its parent company EADS linked to production problems on the super-jumbo.
EADS warned in July that delays on the 555-seater jet could cost it €2 billion ($3.9 billion) in lost profits, causing its share price to plunge.
The fiasco led to the ousting of EADS's joint chief executive Noel Forgeard and the chief executive of Airbus, Gustav Humbert.
The replacement of Champion came as the BAE board prepared to meet this week to examine an audit of Airbus carried out by the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The audit was ordered after an independent valuation by the investment bank Rothschild valued BAE's 20 per cent stake in Airbus at €2.75 billion. BAE had hoped to get more than €4.4 billion from the sale of its minority shareholding to EADS.
The board is expected to recommend that BAE should go ahead with the sale.
The company has decided the Airbus holding is no longer core to its operations. It also knows that even if it holds on to the Airbus stake for a few more years, the huge costs the company is facing on the A380 and its new wide-bodied jet, the XWB A350, mean there is no guarantee its valuation would rise.
The A380 completed its first passenger test flight yesterday with 474 passengers on board. It is due to enter service next year with Singapore Airlines.
- INDEPENDENTBy Michael Harrison