Airbus plc set for take-off

French doubts settled as deal is reached to give plane maker independent status

Airbus Industrie is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding this week on transforming the airliner consortium, in which British Aerospace has a 20% stake, into a limited company.

It is understood that, following last week’s resolution of a major disagreement with reluctant French Airbus partner Aerospatiale, a deal was finally worked out on Friday under which at least some of the consortium’s manufacturing assets could be placed under the control of the new limited company.

Airbus said on Tuesday that the formal memorandum of understanding could be signed `in the coming days’.

By 1999, a single new corporate entity will replace the present loose European economic interest group arrangement under which Airbus makes no profits or losses in its own right. These are instead now borne by the four partners, which also include Germany’s Dasa and Spain’s Casa.

Under a separate deal negotiated last month, Italy’s Alenia is also now expected to join the consortium and take part in the new A340-600 and the A3XX projects.

The drive to firm up Airbus’s future corporate status has been given added impetus by the pending merger of American aerospace giants Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, which will become the world’s strongest civil aerospace company once regulatory approvals are granted.

Immediate prospects for Airbus have been boosted by this week’s confirmation that it won three times as many orders last year than in 1995.

The 326 firm orders worth £15.8billion represent 42% of world civil airliner contracts placed last year.

This year’s deliveries are expected to rise by 45% to 183 airliners, and production rates will be increased accordingly this year and in 1998.

Aerospace outlook, page 16