Goodbye Stelia Aerospace, hello Airbus Atlantic

After a period of calm this summer, the overhaul of the aerostructures business of the Airbus group has started again in earnest this fall. The merger between the establishments of the European aircraft manufacturer in Nantes and Saint-Nazaire and those of its subsidiary Stelia Aerospace has just passed a symbolic milestone, on the occasion of an extraordinary central social and economic committee (CSEC) on September 20. This is the announcement of the name of the new company, known so far “NewCo”, which will result from this merger.

After consultation with the employees, it will be called Airbus Atlantic, a direct reference to its geographical positioning which does not displease the employees of Stelia Aerospace in Méaulte (Hauts-de-France) or in Tunisia. It will become the group’s tier 1 company, alongside Airbus Defense and Space and Airbus Helicopters.

The information-consultation process for trade union organizations is still ongoing in the various entities concerned. It should end between 21 and 25 October with the successive consultation of the European and French group committees, as well as the central CSEs and establishments concerned. The future organization of this group, which will weigh five billion euros in turnover for a workforce of 12,000 employees (including more than 9,000 in France), is nevertheless beginning to take shape. Airbus’ objective is for it to be operational by January 1, 2022.

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Cédric Gautier at the helm

Unsurprisingly, Airbus Atlantic will be headed by Cédric Gautier, the current CEO of Stelia Aerospace. The latter has started to gather his team, whose composition is to be revealed soon. It should bring together both Stelia Aerospace managers and Airbus sites in Nantes and Saint-Nazaire.

This choice of Cédric Gautier at the head of Airbus Atlantic should ensure a certain continuity with Stelia Aerospace. The latter is admittedly a 100% subsidiary of Airbus, but it has a certain autonomy and above all its own activity with customers other than the European aircraft manufacturer. It therefore supplies aerostructures for Bombardier and Dassault Aviation business jets, ATR and Bombardier regional turboprop engines, as well as Boeing commercial aircraft. Stelia Aerospace also has activities for the benefit of military aircraft (Dassault Aviation, Lockheed Martin, Embraer) and helicopters (Leonardo) outside the Airbus group.

This activity towards third-party customers will continue, even if the prospect of keeping Boeing contracts under the name Airbus seems complicated. The vast majority of production should nonetheless remain in-house, with Airbus already representing 80 to 85% of Stelia Aerospace turnover today.

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Smooth transformation

For the moment, this transformation of the activity is going smoothly in France, where the employees of Stelia Aerospace are delighted to fully reintegrate the group after more than a decade of uncertainties. In 2009, after failing to sell its aerostructure plants as provided for in the Power 8 restructuring plan launched two years earlier, Airbus placed these activities in two wholly-owned subsidiaries: Premium Aerotec in Germany and Aerolia in France, which became Stelia Aerospace following its merger in 2015 with Sogerma. Despite discussions with Latécoère in the early 2010s, Stelia Aerospace ultimately never left the bosom of the aircraft manufacturer and is now once again one of the group’s central activities. On the other hand, the Airbus sites in Nantes and Saint-Nazaire are also reassured to keep the name of the European aircraft manufacturer.

The unions also welcomed the management’s commitment to harmonize the social statutes of employees coming from Stelia with those of the rest of Airbus. An approach largely facilitated by the overhaul of the salary agreements currently underway within the group, which aims to arrive at the definition of a common statute in 2023, in parallel with the reform of the collective agreement for metallurgy.

Still on the union side, we note the goodwill displayed by the management regarding the preservation of all the current sites and a balanced distribution of the workload, technologies and investments. The “seats” and “cabins” activities are also perpetuated despite the current difficulties due to the air transport crisis.

Finally, the investment prospects appear encouraging for the development of the activity and the pursuit of the modernization of the means of production. As part of the establishment of Airbus Atlantic, the group could invest an amount of the order of one billion euros to accelerate digitization and the transition to the factory of the future. An equivalent sum could also be released in Germany.

German resistances

However, the game is much more complicated across the Rhine, where Airbus is carrying out a parallel process with its other aerostructures subsidiary, Premium Aerotec. Unlike Stelia Aerospace, which has made numerous efforts in recent years to lower its costs and improve its competitiveness – in particular by selling or relocating its low value-added activities – the German company is today, according to Airbus, between 25% and 30% more expensive than its competitors.

As part of the overhaul of its aerostructures activities, the management of Airbus therefore wishes to separate from the activities of Premium Aerotec devoted to primary parts, which are not very profitable. A decision that could impact a thousand of the 2,500 jobs in the German subsidiary. Hence an outcry on the part of German employees, led by the powerful union IG Metall.

This opposition between union and management in Germany does not seem to interfere with the progress of the French project for the moment. The French and German NewCo calendars are theoretically identical with an implementation on January 1, 2022, but it is clear that the level of progress is very different. The question of a decorrelation or a shift of the two deadlines could therefore end up being raised, even if this prospect still seems unlikely today. For a French trade unionist, the possibility of finding a solution to resolve the problem on the German side remains entirely possible.