By Tim Hepher
PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus <AIR.PA> named its second new sales chief in less than a year on Thursday after chief commercial officer Eric Schulz abruptly resigned nine months after being poached from Rolls-Royce <RR.L> to lead the battle for jet sales against Boeing.
The European planemaker said Christian Scherer, head of turboprop maker ATR and an Airbus veteran who had been beaten to the job by Schulz in November last year, would take over the position immediately, reporting to Chief Executive Tom Enders.
Reuters earlier exclusively reported that Schulz was expected to resign. Airbus said his decision had been taken for personal reasons.
The surprise exit comes as Airbus faces delays and industry-wide reliability problems with engines that soured relations with several customers and left the Frenchman increasingly frustrated, people familiar with the matter said.
The company now has a battle on its hands to recapture lost ground after its share of orders against Boeing this year slumped to barely a quarter in the wake of a looser than usual set of commitments at the Farnborough Airshow.
Sources said Scherer's aggressive commercial streak could challenge Boeing's lead in the airplane market, where the two sides are embroiled in a bruising battle for wide-body sales.
But several note he is not a preacher of 'market share' for its own sake, especially where jet market stability is at risk.
Schulz was picked for the high-profile Airbus post last year after the company bungled efforts to name an internal successor to John Leahy, the U.S.-born sales kingpin who retired in February.
His appointment reflected a desire by the board to bring in outside blood as Airbus endured turmoil over the impact of ongoing UK and French corruption investigations, which severely demoralised the Airbus marketing machine.
But Schulz's previous position as head of Rolls-Royce civil engines did not always guarantee him a sympathetic hearing from airlines currently suffering problems with Rolls engines on Boeing and Airbus jets, according to multiple aircraft market sources.
He was also widely said to have struggled to get a grip on the complex and sometimes faction-ridden Airbus universe.
Nonetheless, his decision came as a complete surprise to top management who were informed this week, insiders said.
Schulz could not be reached for comment.
Sources had also reported a tense relationship between Schulz and Guillaume Faury, head of the planemaking division, who is the leading internal contender to replace Enders in coming months.
"I think (Schulz) understood which way the wind was blowing," a person familiar with the company said.
Another person close to the company denied such tensions had triggered Schulz's decision to leave.
Before joining turboprop affiliate ATR in 2016, Scherer forged the successful A320neo jet programme and Airbus's jet manufacturing entry to the U.S. with a plant in Alabama.
The A320neo - an upgrade of Airbus's most-sold jet with fuel-saving engines - generated thousands of orders and powered Airbus shares to record highs, but has been hit by delays in deliveries of engines mainly from Pratt & Whitney <UTX.N>.
In his two years at the helm of ATR, Scherer scored key sales to India and the U.S. but was forced to curb deliveries to Iran after Washington exited an international deal to ease sanctions.
His transfer back to parent Airbus is the second unexpected exit of a French chief at ATR in as many years and could renew pressure for an Italian to occupy the rotating presidency of the firm, co-owned by Airbus and Italy's Leonardo <LDOF.MI>.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Kirsten Donovan)