Failure of joint projects prompts Russia to sell its stake in EADS
The grand plan a few years back looked like this: Russia's aerospace industry would become closely entwined with Europe's. And, based on that cooperation, the Russian sector would gradually reach a world-class level. But the plan turned into a series of disappointments, and now Russia is drawing its own conclusions.
The state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB) sold its 5% stake inin several steps that concluded this month, ending its role as one of the largest single shareholders. The move, anticipated for years, was triggered by the funding needs of Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Co. (SCAC), a . (UAC) unit. Instead of using state funds directly to secure the company's financing, Russia opted to take the opportunity to dispose of what had become a strategically obsolete shareholding.
The Russian government bought a stake in EADS with much different ambitions in 2006. EADS had taken a 10% stake inCorp., then a private company, and Russia, through VTB bank, picked up 5% in the European aerospace group as part of a cross-shareholding structure that was to signal the political willingness to integrate further. VTB later handed the package to VEB. EADS sold its 10% stake in Irkut to UAC in 2008.
Russia had hoped for a seat on the EADS board of directors, but that body was off-limits, being controlled by members of the former shareholder pact (Lagardere Group, Daimler and the French government) until early April, when the pact was dissolved and two of the three core shareholders exited. Management, having been opposed to the idea of controlling stakeholders all along, was not inclined to introduce political influence, either.
In spite of the unsuccessful attempt to secure EADS board representation, relations between Russia and the company began reasonably well. Irkut has been delivering components for thesince 2007. There are other examples of industrial relationships, as well, though most do not involve EADS. For example, and plan to develop a new helicopter, is part of a joint venture to develop the engines for the , Alenia is part of the international Superjet marketing initiative. And there were more plans for EADS projects: A320 freighter conversion work and a share in the program, most prominently. Hardly anything has gone beyond the drawing board, however. The Dresden, Germany-based subsidiary EADS EFW, Airbus, Irkut and UAC dissolved a joint venture in 2011 that was originally set up for A320/A321 passenger-to-freighter conversion work.
A key turning point came in 2006, with the creation of UAC, which integrated essentially the entire Russian aerospace industry, including Irkut. EADS decided to dispose of its stake in what had been a private company, and many of the planned joint projects then quietly disappeared.
The Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), a Moscow think tank specializing in the aerospace and defense industry, argues that the consequences of that split are deep and painful. “One can probably safely say that Russia has for a long time, if not forever, missed the opportunity to enter the commercial aviation market as an independent player at the highest level,” CAST Deputy Director Konstantin Makienko writes in a paper published by the Franco-Russian Center. “It is far behind second-tier players such as Brazil or Canada. Competition is getting tougher due to the emergence of new powers in the aviation industry, especially China and Japan. In this context, the only possible strategy for a continued presence in commercial aviation is through international cooperation.” But Makienko concludes that “progress in this field has been very modest” and “the greatest regret should be the rate at which the Russian-European rapprochement has regressed.”
Cooperation between EADS and UAC units has also been tightly limited due to political shifts. Relations between Germany and Russia cooled significantly after 2006, when Angela Merkel replaced Gerhard Schroeder as chancellor. Schroeder was close to President Vladimir Putin and now works as a consultant for a Russian pipeline project. Merkel has taken a much more cautious approach.
The EADS stake sale frees up close to €2 billion ($2.7 billion) that the Russian government is understood to be using to support ailing Superjet 100 manufacturer Sukhoi. The funds are likely part of a broader debt restructuring that is aimed at financing production ramp-up. The Superjet program has suffered significant delays and cost overruns. The first aircraft exported to a Western customer entered revenue service with Mexican low-cost carrier Interjet last week.
Unlike on previous occasions, the Russian government has elected not to go for direct subsidies, but to repurpose an existing investment in aerospace. Some argue that could signal that civil aerospace is no longer as high on the agenda as it once used to be. The government has also hinted that an updated and bigger Superjet version is delayed until at least 2016 to enable sorting out of issues with the baseline aircraft.