But what is happening at ArianeGroup?

A week after the announcement of 2,300 job cuts, the prime contractor for the Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 launchers announces the departure of its CEO Alain Charmeau. Close-up on a champion weakened by American competition and European stagnation.

The future Ariane 6 launcher, scheduled for first flight in 2020

Notice of heavy weather for ArianeGroup. Two weeks after the formalization of the elimination of 2,300 jobs, the European industrialist, prime contractor for the Ariane 5, Ariane 6 launchers and the French M51 ballistic missile, announced on Monday November 26 the departure of its CEO Alain Charmeau. The latter, aged 62, had headed the group since its creation in 2014, when the launch activities of Airbus and Safran were merged. It will be replaced on 1is next January by André-Hubert Roussel, 52, currently director of operations for Airbus Defense and Space. A three-month transition period is scheduled for early 2019, after which Alain Charmeau will assert his pension rights.

If rumors had filtered in recent days, the announcement of the departure of this pillar of the European space sector calls out. Should this be linked to the restructuring plan under negotiation? With the glaring lack of European institutional orders for Ariane 6, which for the moment has capped at three firm institutional contracts (2 Galileo and CSO-3)? When asked, ArianeGroup swears that the subjects are not related. Alain Charmeau, we are assured internally, considers that most of the projects have been launched, and prefers to leave to his successor the management of the final sprint towards the first flight of Ariane 6, scheduled for July 16, 2020. “He worked like crazy to form this group, he prefers to leave the last blow of the collar to a new leader ”, one explains to Challenges.

Triple crisis

In fact, Alain Charmeau and the 9,000 ArianeGroup employees have not been idle for four years. The industrialist invested 400 million euros in equity in the development of Ariane 6. He hired 1,500 people over the period, brought together the ex-Airbus, ex-Safran and ex-Heraclès teams, brought out a new brand new building in Les Mureaux (Yvelines), where the main stage of Ariane 6 will be assembled. “We are on schedule for the first flight in July 2020, as planned,” assured Alain Charmeau on October 18 during a site visit. There are still 21 months and a lot of work to do, but when I see what we have done in 36 months, I am very confident. ”

But these efforts appear insufficient in the face of the triple crisis in European space. One, ArianeGroup has to face competition from the United States, and not only from SpaceX: the US Air Force again awarded $ 2.2 billion in subsidies in mid-October to Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos’ company), Northrop Grumman , and ULA (Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture) for their launcher projects. “The Americans have decided, let’s not be afraid of words, to hide the Europeans”, alarmed the CFE-CGC of ArianeGroup on November 12.