Enders in 2014 froze payments to middlemen and later shared an audit revealing misleading filings with UK authorities, but has seen his authority challenged as the discovery triggered UK and French fraud investigations and a backlash in France.
“It means two things: that despite his wishes, Enders could be replaced, and it would not automatically be Bregier,” a senior source with close links to the company said.
The overhaul is not directly connected to investigations but both men appear to have suffered collateral damage from the probes, which made their differences clearer, one source said.
The company said the board had acted to secure an orderly succession at the world’s second-largest planemaker.
During 2018, the board will look both inside and outside for a successor to 58-year-old Enders “in good time” for confirmation at the 2019 annual shareholder meeting, it said.
The shake-up came after Bregier, a 56-year-old who has long been seen as the natural heir to Enders, told the board he did not intend to be part of the selection process for 2019 and would therefore step down in February to “pursue other interests” – widely viewed as code for not being short-listed.
Enders said he would work to ensure a smooth transition.
However, both scarcely tried to mask tensions as Bregier recalled changes of title – a pointed reminder of a bitter feud with Enders – while Enders said he agreed with Bregier’s decision “and frankly, I would not have done differently”.
Some sources said Bregier had sought support from the French government and Airbus’s French chairman, prompting the board to show its muscle. But the selection process will remain under scrutiny from investors worried about any return to past efforts by shareholders France or Germany to tilt appointments.
“We believe the worst thing that could happen at Airbus in the coming 12-24 months is for evidence of political considerations coming to the fore,” Jefferies analyst Sandy Morris said.