Airbus 'faces death warrant'

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The Independent Online
The chairman of Aerospatiale, the French aerospace group, yesterday launched an astonishing attack on its British and German partners in Airbus, warning they could be signing the consortium's "death warrant" by joining a bid for the French defence electronics giant Thomson-CSF.

Yves Michot caused dismay in London and Bonn with his remarks which contained a veiled threat that the restructuring of Airbus into a public company would not go ahead if the Thomson bid were successful.

British Aerospace, which has a 20 per cent stake in Airbus, and Germany's Daimler Benz Aerospace (Dasa), which has a 37.9 per cent holding, have teamed up with Lagardere, owner of the Matra missiles group, to bid for the French government's 58 per cent holding in Thomson.

Aerospatiale, France's biggest aerospace group with interests ranging from commercial airliners and missiles to helicopters and regional jets, has been blocked from bidding. However, the French military aircraft group, Dassualt, which with Aerospatiale plans to merge before its own privatisation later this year, has been permitted to bid for Thomson in partnership with Alcatel Alsthom.

In an interview with the French financial newspaper Les Echos, Mr Michot said that if the Lagardere-BAe-Daimler consortium was successful it would weaken the French aerospace industry and make it impossible to carry out the reorganisation of Airbus, which is due to convert to plc status in 1999.

He warned BAe and Dasa against any attempt to marginalise Aerospatiale within the consortium, adding: "To ally against Aerospatiale would be to signal the death of Airbus."

The Aerospatiale chairman said in that case it would be necessary to think of a different solution for Airbus, based on a limited partnership or making it one industrial operation.

In particular Dasa's decision to link up with Lagardere had ended a "shared global vision" between the German group and Aerospatiale which dated back 30 years. The two companies are also partners in the Eurocopter and Euromissile consortai.

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