(Updates after AGM voting, adds new CEO quote)
By Tim Hepher
AMSTERDAM May 27 Airbus Group
completed an overhaul of Europe's largest aerospace group on
Tuesday by changing its name from EADS and reaffirming a pledge
to deliver on existing projects before embarking on risky new
Shareholders adopted the name change to Airbus Group by a
99.99 percent margin, bringing the company's legal title into
line with that of its planemaker subsidiary and ending what
Chief Executive Tom Enders called the "Babylonian confusion" of
"There is clearly a positive implication for our ...
acceptance in the market and for integration within Airbus,"
Enders told reporters after the vote, which endorsed the name
already being used by the group since January.
Airbus Group shares rose 1.9 percent to 52.74 euros.
EADS was founded in 2000 from a merger of French, German and
Spanish assets to create a counterweight to U.S. aerospace and
defence giants and quickly embarked on a project to build the
world's largest passenger plane, the A380 superjumbo.
By the middle of that decade, delays in Europe's largest
industrial project were pushing the company towards a financial
crisis and added to in-fighting between French and German
shareholders, represented at that time by the French state and
French and German industrial groups.
Last year, the company agreed sweeping changes in its
corporate governance to limit the power of the French and German
governments, which now own 11 percent each, and allow the market
to own a majority with an increased float of 73 percent.
"I have seen a sea change. We were something in between a
joint venture and a listed company," the company's French
Chairman Denis Ranque told the annual shareholder meeting of the
changes brought about by the changes in corporate governance.
Now, Airbus is delivering its next project, the A350, with
relatively few glitches compared with previous projects and
executives said the first delivery of Europe's answer to the
high-tech Boeing 787 Dreamliner would be by the end of this year
Enders however warned the A350 was entering a "red hot
phase" in which efforts to ramp up production have to co-exist
with design changes stemming from ongoing flight testing.
"MILK CASH COW"
After building the world's first carbon-fibre passenger
jets, Airbus and Boeing have both signalled a break from
pioneering but risky new projects while upgrading older planes
and returning more cash to shareholders.
However, at the first shareholder meeting organised fully
under the new corporate structure - which gives a stronger voice
to individual shareholders - Airbus executives also faced calls
from some of those investors to share profits more generously.
"It is time to milk the cash cow," a Dutch shareholder said.
Airbus Group raised its dividend for 2013 to 75 cents from
60 cents, but kept the payout ratio unchanged at 40 percent.
Finance Director Harald Wilhelm said the company needed to
set aside money for increases in working capital to allow it to
lift production of its new A350 jet - from the first two in the
last quarter of this year to 10 a month in 2018.
Executives said they expected to decide in coming months
whether to go ahead with plans to upgrade the Airbus A330
jetliner with new engines to help it compete with the new 787.
An earlier project to upgrade the best-selling medium-haul
A320 with new engines is going according to plan, Enders said.
Airbus Group, meanwhile, pledged to bolster efforts to
stabilise its traditionally volatile free cashflow, after
missing the breakeven targets originally set for 2013.
Adding to the cautious industry tone, Enders said Airbus
Group does not currently plan any major M&A activity, referring
to deals worth at least 1 billion euros.
But he said the company hoped to raise some money from
disposals driven by a restructuring of its defence and space
activities, which it expects to finalise this summer.
EADS attempted to buy Britain's BAE Systems in 2012
but saw the defence deal halted by German government opposition.
(Editing by Pravin Char)