Airbus' chief executive will step down after his current term expires in 2019, and his heir apparent has said he will quit early next year as the aerospace giant faces an international investigation into corruption allegations.

In a move aimed at ensuring an "orderly transition", CEO Tom Enders said that he would not seek another term when his current stint as head of the company ends in 2019.

His second in command, chief operating officer Fabrice Bregier, has said he will step down in February and does not want to be considered for the top job, the Telegraph reports.

According to reports in the French media, Mr Bregier failed to win the backing of the board when it met earlier this week amid long-running talk of a power struggle within the company.


Airbus said Guillaume Faury, head of the company's helicopter business, will replace Mr Bregier as president of commercial aircraft. The appointment could make him a frontrunner to succeed Mr Enders when he departs.

Mr Enders, who will have spent 14 years in charge of the business when he leaves, said: "The privilege of serving this great company 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. We need fresh minds for the 2020s."

Mr Enders said his remaining time at the controls would see him "strengthen our ethics and compliance programmes".

The shake-up at the top comes as UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and its French equivalent the Parquet national financier (PNF) investigate allegations that Airbus used bribery and "middlemen" to win contracts around the world.

If the company is found to have engaged in such illegal practices, it could face a multi-billion pound fines with the potential for individual charges against executives. Airbus self-reported to the authorities, a move that could reduce any penalties.

Earlier this year Rolls-Royce agreed a record-breaking £671m settlement to end a similar investigation into what judge Sir Brian Leveson called "truly vast, endemic" bribery.

Chief executive of European aircraft manufacturer Airbus Tom Enders. Photo / File
Chief executive of European aircraft manufacturer Airbus Tom Enders. Photo / File

The penalty could have been much higher if Rolls had not fully co-operated and taken steps to change its leadership and behaviour since the illegal practices were discovered.


Lord Justice Leveson said had any of Rolls' management who would have known about the illegal practices at the company, then he would have had a "significant" impact on whether he agreed the settlement.

In October Airbus said it faced further legal problems after an internal review of its compliance procedures had unearthed "inaccuracies" in filings made to the US State Department involving Part 130 of the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

Airbus did not specify which part of the rules it had broken, but Section 130 covers payments "relating to the sales of defence articles and services", which include fees and commissions.

The departures of the executives could be an attempt by Airbus to mitigate any damage resulting from the investigations.

Jefferies analyst Sandy Morris described the shake-up as "harsh, if necessary… some change was inevitable".

"We do not believe the above changes stem solely from the investigations under way," Mr Morris added.

"But they are likely to have influenced some events; probably the departure of the COO who may feel he could no longer be a credible candidate for the role of chief executive."

Mr Enders said Mr Faury represented the "next generation of leaders and has demonstrated broad business and industry experience and international mindset".

In what has been interpreted by some as a reference to clearing out the company of staff who might have been seen to be linked to the corruption allegations, chairman of Airbus Denis Ranque described the moves as a "generational handover", adding the board was "confident" it had made "the right decisions to ensure Airbus' long-term stability and future success".

Speaking in Brussels, French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out the French state taking a larger role in the management of Airbus, which has seen its state shareholders drop their influence over the last decade.

The French and German governments each hold 11pc of Airbus.

In early trading Airbus shares were flat at €85.31.