January 07, 2014
Less than a month after announcing a headcount reduction and restructuring in its European operations, Airbus Group also is making changes in its North American arm.
Sean O’Keefe, once the head of EADS North America (renamed Airbus Group), is stepping down from his post. Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas, will assume the role of CEO of Airbus Group in North America, with oversight of operations in the U.S., Canada and Latin and South America.
McArtor has roots in both of Airbus Group’s main sectors with experience running Legend Airlines, a regional that eventually failed due to resistance from American Airlines as a competitor. He also served as FAA administrator in 1987-89 and was an F-16 pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He will be the third CEO of the company’s U.S.-based operations; Ralph Crosby launched the stateside operation in 2003 and oversaw the business until 2009, when O’Keefe assumed the top position.
O’Keefe is stepping down to put more focus on recovering from ongoing complications of injuries sustained in a 2010 aircraft accident that claimed the life of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). O’Keefe and his son survived the Alaska crash of the DeHavilland DHC-3T that killed five people. O’Keefe says he underwent a 6-hr. surgery last month.
“The surgery was a wake-up call for me ... every day is a bonus,” O’Keefe tells Aviation Week. Though recovering well from the procedure, O’Keefe says he must focus on an aggressive rehabilitation regimen and cannot dedicate the intensity needed to continue to run the company properly.
O’Keefe took over at then-EADS North America in the throes of the company’s loss to Boeing in a bitter battle for the U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 replacement program. Now, it is likely the commercial sales in the Americas will continue to take a front seat to more defense business in the U.S. given cutbacks to defense spending globally. The company’s new commercial aircraft assembly line in Mobile, Ala., is set to open within the next year, providing stateside capacity for U.S. sales.
The company has struggled to garner other major U.S. defense wins—a task not unique to Airbus as the Pentagon cuts back on military spending. Its efforts to sell an armed version of the UH-72A Lakota to the U.S. Army have faltered, largely due to institutional paralysis on the part of the service to chart a path forward for its scout helicopter mission area. However, foreign sales of the aircraft could pick up. Thailand, the first foreign buyer of the Lakota version, is purchasing six of them in a deal estimated to be worth $77 million.
Also uncertain due to departmental waffling is the way ahead on the company’s bid for the Integrated Fixed Tower program headed by the Department of Homeland Security. Bids were submitted in May of 2012 with a decision yet to be announced.
Unrealized plans for a move into the U.S. are not unique to Airbus Group. Alenia Aermacchi has also restructured its U.S. operations to acknowledge its own quashed hopes of selling a new Marine One helicopter and a large number of C-27Js to the Pentagon.