How time flies. five years ago, airline chiefs longed for Airbus to right an aircraft-manufacturing market leaning in Boeing's favor. In a sector at the mercy of a single heavyweight, plane prices could have climbedand fares would have followed. Now, after four years at the controls of Airbus, Noël Forgeard has tipped the balanceand Airbus is soaring. In 2004 it outsold Boeing for the second straight year. A quiet, unassuming leader, Forgeard, 58, is no superhero up close. But he has crafted a team capable of being bold, technologically brilliant and ruthless in execution. Moreover, Airbus thinks big. The A380, its 555-seat, double-decker linerthe world's largest passenger planeis the jumbo of the next 50 years. It was a billion-dollar bet. Outside pressure to dump the project was often as intense as Forgeard's drive. But as a quiet, cost-effective and environmentally friendly plane, the A380 symbolizes what Airbus now does best.
Like any good business leader, Forgeard listens to his customers. He sits down with airlines and takes note of what we want. In the wake of Sept. 11, for example, Forgeard dropped in on carriers to discuss ways of helping them avoid a crash landing. Not that everyone welcomes his protective arm. The U.S. wants an end to European government aid to Airbus, aid that Forgeard defends. Either way, airline chiefs are grateful to Forgeard for restoring balance in the industry.
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