Airbus replaces head of A380 programme

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The Independent Online

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 with immediate effect to Mario Heinen, who was previously responsible for the A320 family of narrow-bodied jets. Mr Champion instead becomes "special adviser" to the new Airbus chief executive Christian Streiff.

There had been speculation he would be forced out of Airbus altogether after the disastrous profits warning from its parent company EADS linked to production problems on the super-jumbo. EADS warned in July delays on the 555-seater jet could cost it €2bn (£1.35bn) 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 Mr 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 just €2.75bn (£1.9bn). BAE had hoped to get more than £3bn from the sale of its minority shareholding to EADS.

The board is expected to recommend BAE presses ahead with the sale of the stake. The company has already decided the Airbus holding is no longer core to its operations. BAE executives are also concerned that, even if it held on to the Airbus stake for a few more years, there is no guarantee its valuation would rise given the huge costs the company is facing on both the A380 and its new wide-bodied jet, the XWB A350. The aircraft is now expected to cost about €8bn to develop - twice the original cost estimate.

The A380 successfully completed its first passenger test flight yesterday with 474 passengers on board. The super-jumbo is due to enter service next spring with Singapore Airlines.