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Matra chief appointed head of Airbus

A senior French aerospace executive, Noel Forgeard, is set to be appointed as the new managing director of the four-nation aircraft consortium Airbus Industrie.

Confirmation that Mr Forgeard is to take over the post when Jean Pierson retires next year is expected before Christmas. Mr Forgeard is currently a board member of the French defence electronics group Lagardere and chairman of its Matra space and defence division.

The appointment is key since Mr Forgeard will be one of the executives charged with taking Airbus forward as a single corporate entity from 1999.

Airbus held a meeting of its supervisory board in Toulouse yesterday to discuss Mr Pierson's successor but a spokesman refused to comment on whether a candidate had been selected or when an announcement might be made.

However, sources in the office of the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, confirmed that Mr Forgeard was France's preferred candidate for the post.

Mr Forgeard is part of that charmed inner circle of Frenchmen who alternate between senior posts in government and industry. A graduate of the prestigious Ecole Politique, he has acted as adviser to French transport and armed forces ministers and sat in Jacques Chirac's cabinet in 1986 in between spells in the French steel industry with Usinor-Sacilor.

It was always certain that a Frenchman would take over the post from Mr Pierson, who was a senior executive with the French Airbus partner Aerospatiale before taking up his present job.

Other candidates linked with the job include Christian Blanc, the former chairman of Air France, Louis Gallois, chairman of the state French railway SNCF, and Gerard Blanc, director of Airbus operations at Aerospatiale.

British Aerospace, which has a 20 per cent stake in Airbus, is familiar with Mr Forgeard. Its missiles division is part of the Anglo-French joint venture Matra BAe which Mr Forgeard is responsible for. BAe also partnered the parent group Lagardere in its unsuccessful bid for the defence electronics group Thomson-CSF.

The chairman of the Airbus supervisory board, Edzard Reuter, formerly head of Daimler Benz Aerospace, is also due to retire next March. He is expected to be replaced by his successor at Dasa, Manfred Bischoff, though this has not yet been confirmed.