European plane maker Airbus SE (AIR.FR) kicked off a new era in its battle against Boeing Co. (BA) on Tuesday by naming Eric Schulz, a top executive at engine supplier Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC (RR.LN), as its next airliner sales chief.
Mr. Schulz, 54, ran Rolls-Royce's civil-aircraft engine programs, and will join Airbus at the end of January as executive vice president for sales, marketing and contracts reporting to Chief Executive Tom Enders.
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Mr. Schulz will replace industry legend John Leahy, 67, who has been the Airbus sales boss since 1994.
During his years at Airbus--which included a decade running sales in the U.S. for Airbus before taking the top job--Mr. Leahy has become the world's most successful plane salesman. Airbus had sold fewer than 400 planes at the time Mr. Leahy joined the company, and since then it has sold about 17,000 more.
Mr. Leahy helped turn Airbus into the world's largest plane maker when the European company in 2003 delivered more planes than Boeing. The U.S. plane manufacturer returned to the top spot in 2012.
Mr. Leahy will retire after a transition period, Airbus said, while Mr. Enders called his contribution to the company's commercial aircraft business "epic."
The hiring of Mr. Schulz represents the second time in recent history that one of the world's biggest plane makers has tapped an executive from one of its aircraft engine suppliers for a top post.
Boeing last year named Kevin McAllister to run its commercial plane business. Mr. McAllister previously ran the aviation services for General Electric Co. (GE).
At Rolls-Royce, Mr. Schulz oversaw engine programs powering Airbus long-range jets. Rolls-Royce also offers an engine for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.
Mr. Schulz takes over as sales chief at a time when Airbus has amassed a huge backlog of plane orders that have yet to be built, with the backlog for some types stretching past 2025. However, the transition also comes at a difficult time. The flagship A380 superjumbo, which can seat more than 600 passengers, has sold poorly, and lack of demand has forced Airbus to lower production to a level where it costs more to build the A380 than it can charge for it.
Airbus is also embroiled in regulatory controversy from irregularities in aircraft sales. British and French authorities are investigating the company for its failure to disclose the use of middlemen in some plane deals. U.S. authorities are also scrutinizing the undeclared use of such third-party brokers, though with relation to military deals.
Rolls-Royce has already begun the search for a replacement for Mr. Schulz, who will remain at the company until the end of the year, it said.
Rolls-Royce also said that program director Chris Young will immediately take oversight of commercial and strategic matters for civil aerospace. That change is necessary because some of Rolls-Royce's discussions include Airbus competitors.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 28, 2017 02:51 ET (07:51 GMT)