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CORRUPTION

Airbus chief warns of ‘significant penalties’ from bribery probes

Airbus CEO Tom Enders warned on Friday that the aircraft manufacturer could face "significant penalties" relating to ongoing corruption probes including one into the sale of fighter jets to Austria.

Airbus chief warns of 'significant penalties' from bribery probes
Airbus CEO Tom Enders. Photo: Aurore Belot/AFP

“We are currently being investigated for alleged breaches of anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws,” Enders wrote in a letter to employees seen by AFP.

“We are in this situation because we decided last year to disclose the issues we had ourselves uncovered to government authorities and investigation agencies,” he said, adding: “This was the right course of action.”

“This is going to be a long process and there are potentially serious consequences – including significant penalties to the company,” Enders said.

An Airbus business unit in Paris reportedly built a network of shell companies linked to London-based Vector Aerospace, formerly the group's aircraft maintenance subsidiary.

Its system allowed the group to make “bribes to decision-makers in Austria” while Vienna was considering its purchase of Eurofighter military jets, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Friday, culminating in a 15-aircraft deal worth about €1.7 billion ($2 billion).

Inquiries have also been opened in France and Britain, on suspicion of corruption in Airbus's UK-based civil aviation arm.

Without citing sources, Der Spiegel also reported that prosecutors were “preparing charges” against unidentified suspects over the Austria case.

“Internal investigators stumbled across more than 100 possibly corrupt payments in the three-digit millions,” the magazine reported, citing anonymous sources.

But Hildegard Baeumler-Hoesl, a state prosecutor in Munich, told AFP earlier Friday that investigators had “little evidence so far of corruption”.

Bavarian investigators have been looking into the Airbus since 2012, and the corruption probe over the sale of jets to Austria will “soon be over,” she said.

An Airbus spokesperson told AFP that the Spiegel report was “not based on any declaration or disclosure by the public prosecutor.”

Austrian authorities are also investigating Airbus after bringing charges in February, claiming the company paid out 183 million to €1.1 billion in under-the-table “commissions”.

Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil accused Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium deliberately misleading Vienna about the purchase price, delivery times and technical equipment of the 18 Eurofighter jets.

Last month, Airbus denied the accusations, with a lawyer for the company calling them “factitious and legally groundless”.

“As the process unfolds we are likely to face frequent media coverage,” Enders said in his letter to employees, while also warning against “leaks and attempts by individuals with vested interests to discredit top management by spreading false allegations.”

“In other words, prepare for turbulent and confusing times,” he wrote.

TAXI

Paris aims to beat Olympic traffic with flying taxis

Paris aims to give visitors to the 2024 Paris Olympics a flying start by offering airborne taxis to tournament sites straight from the airport.

Paris aims to beat Olympic traffic with flying taxis
An Airbus image showing what the taxis might look like. Photo: Airbus
Arrivals in the City of Light currently face an hour-long haul by train or bus into town from Charles de Gaulle airport to the north of Paris.
   
But if Aeroports de Paris (ADP), Airbus and the RATP regional transport have their way passengers, right after their jets have taxied to a halt on the runway, will be able to take to the air once again with a self-flying urban taxi of the future.
   
The firms used this past week's Paris Air Show to say the Olympics afforded the perfect opportunity to bring into service futuristic Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) machines, and that they would launch a feasibility study.
   
“In 2010, for the first time, more than half of humanity was living in urban zones and we think we shall surpass 60 percent by 2030,” said Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury.
   
The time had now come to vault up to “the third dimension” of local commutes — air, he said.
 
“If we have the conviction that in the next five, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years low altitude is a space to be conquered we have to put in place the conditions today,” said ADP Group's executive director general Edward Arkwright.
   
VTOL converts are already sprouting in number as the world looks to move beyond — or rather, above — today's saturated motorways and growing environmental concerns.
   
Back on the ground, the view has been muddied by a delay beyond the Games, to 2025, of the express fast train designed to cut congestion and travel time between Charles de Gaulle airport and the city centre. 
   
For aircraft manufacturer Airbus, airport manager ADP and RATP, which manages Parisian public transport services, the Games are a chance to showcase French savoir-faire in urban mobility.
 
Multitude of projects
 
ADP has until the end of the year to choose a site for a “Vertiport” capable of hosting taxis from one of 10 aerodromes in the region around Paris.
   
The idea is to have the venue ready in 18 months, requiring infrastructure investment of some ten million euros ($11.3 million), says Arkwright. He adds the project will test out the link “via an existing helicopter corridor”.
   
Ideally, the service would see the taxis take off every six minutes.
   
In order to make VTOL a reality by 2024, ADP is working alongside Airbus, which has for some years been involved in full electric propulsion urban mobility schemes.
   
The manufacturer already has two prototype models — the single-seater “Vahana” and the four-seater variant “CityAirbus”.
   
Faury explained that “the two projects will converge towards a vehicle that will respond to first cases of use.”
   
“This partnership is a unique opportunity to develop technological solutions, a product, a regulatory framework, an economic model,” Faury added.
 
'Important stage'
 
“This project reduces constraints not only in terms of infrastructure but also concerning air traffic as it involves experimenting in a specific (air) corridor,” said Jean-Louis Rassineux, head of aeronautics and defence issues for Deloitte. “It is large scale rollout which is going to be complicated,” Rassineux told AFP.
   
Along with required progress on battery power and anti-collision detection he said there were “constraints regarding compatibility and traffic regulation.” 
   
But there is also the issue of the extent to which the concept will gain widespread public acceptance.
   
Rassineux warned there would need to be “security levels as stringent as those for air traffic” as well as “real value added to existing transport” systems.
   
Deloitte estimates the size of the airborne taxi market at some $17 billion for the United States alone through to 2040.
   
Yet “there remains some way to go before a flying vehicle becomes integrated into urban transport,” cautioned France's transport minister, Elisabeth Borne.
   
Borne nonetheless sees moves towards creating an embryonic service in time for the 2024 games as “one of the important stages” towards “the emergence of a complete transport offering” which would be “integrated and which respects the environment”.  
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