technology

Airbus No. 2 Bregier Bails Out After Handing Over Latest Model

  • Jets-unit boss exits at 56 after being overlooked for top job
  • Executive’s last act is to sign off on taxing A350 program

Airbus CEO Says Confident Can Work Through Glitches to Make Deliveries

Handing over a new aircraft is usually a celebratory affair: the customer inspects the new toy, the planemaker breathes a sigh of relief, and everyone poses with a big smile.

For Airbus SE’s second-in-command Fabrice Bregier, the delivery of the first A350-1000 model came with a bitter-sweet tinge: his last day at the European manufacturing giant after being overlooked for the top job.

Fabrice Bregier

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Bregier, 56, at least had the satisfaction of seeing the A350 through to the end of its launch phase, with the stretched -1000 model representing the culmination of a program whose production problems took some of the gloss off its sales success during his final years at the company.

“I could have stayed a bit longer, but I think I am one of the top managers who has spent the longest time running Airbus,” Bregier, Airbus’s chief operating officer and the head of its main jetliner arm, said at a ceremony in Toulouse, France, after handing the plane to Qatar Airways.

‘Good Memories’

Frenchman Bregier insisted that he had “only good memories” of 15 years at Airbus, before which he led the company’s MBDA missiles joint venture. His exit was announced in December after he failed to muster sufficient boardroom support to succeed Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders, who plans to stand down next year when his current term expires.

The news came as a shock, with Bregier having been regarded as heir-apparent given Airbus’s routine of alternating between French and German leaders. As recently as Dec. 14 he made clear that he was still keen to run the group. Helicopters chief Guillaume Faury is now seen as favorite to become chief after being chosen to head the jetliner arm, albeit not as COO.

The development of the A350, Airbus’s response to Boeing Co.’s smaller 787, punctuated Bregier’s career and presented some of its biggest challenges.

Qatar Air delayed delivery of the baseline -900 variant in 2014, citing issues with the plane’s finish. The production ramp-up was later disrupted by problems with seats and interiors, leaving dozens of jets parked around the Toulouse assembly plant awaiting fitting out. Airbus was forced into a furious spree of completion work in order meet annual delivery targets.

Order Concern

Slow sales of the shrunken -800 version of the plane led it to be effectively canceled, while the business case for the stretched -1000 model has become clouded after blue-chip clients including United Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. switched to the -900.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker says the Airbus A350 fits perfectly into its network.

(Source: Bloomberg)

That’s left the -1000 with just 169 orders, compared with almost 700 for the baseline model. Qatar Air provided a potential boost for the larger variant, with CEO Akbar Al Baker saying at the handover he might upgrade some orders for the -900 to that version. The Gulf carrier has agreed to buy 39 283-seat -900s -- of which about half are already in service -- and 37 -1000s, with 327 seats.

Qatar plans to operate the first of its stretched aircraft on the Doha-London Heathrow route starting this weekend, and the model will also serve the U.S. east coast as more are delivered.

Bregier, who declined to reveal where his next job will be, said that bringing the A350 to market has been his proudest achieved at Airbus, regardless of the hiccups along the way.

The -900, though “not a perfect program,” was still “managed much better than any other big development so far,” and achieved its delivery targets despite the ramp-up issues. “The icing on the cake is clearly the -1000, which will be the best of the best of the wide-bodies.”

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