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Airbus technology head Eremenko leaves to join rival UTC

[PARIS] Airbus' technology head Paul Eremenko will leave to join rival United Technologies Corp, both groups said on Thursday - a blow to Airbus as it tries to overhaul its strategy and win back business from Boeing .

The announcement came two and a half years after Mr Eremenko was hired from Google and told to foster innovation and import radical thinking from Silicon Valley. Airbus has long said that digital technology will change the way aircraft are made.

He headed Airbus' Silicon Valley outpost and rose quickly to become Chief Technology Officer of the whole group in June, 2016 at the age of 36.

But insiders say the outspoken executive clashed with the technical leadership at Airbus, notably former chief engineer Charles Champion, and came to represent a US vanguard viewed with suspicion by some in Europe's largest aerospace group.

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One source told Reuters that Mr Eremenko was leaving for "personal reasons".

"Paul is a transformative leader with deep experience in aerospace and commercial technologies, and a record of disruptive innovation," UTC Chairman and Chief Executive Greg Hayes said in a statement.

Airbus said its digital transformation officer, Marc Fontaine, would serve as acting CTO and a replacement would be announced in the near future.

"Airbus will continue to pursue the directions Paul pioneered to generate greater value in our processes, products and services, and ultimately for our customers," Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said in a statement.

Mr Eremenko's new job as UTC's chief technology officer starts on Jan 1.

Airbus' trade union officials told Reuters they were not surprised by the news of Mr Eremenko's departure, saying some of his decisions had angered staff.

The union officials blamed Mr Eremenko for shutting down a site in Suresnes, near Paris, as he sought to modernise Airbus' research and engineering practices.

"That really upset a lot of the teams," said Francoise Vallin of Airbus' CFE-CGC trade union, whose views on Mr Eremenko's unpopularity were echoed by Didier Hacquart from the CFDT union.

This week, Airbus hired the head of Rolls-Royce's civil engines arm, Eric Schulz, lead its commercial aircraft sales, after months of uncertainty over who would replace veteran dealmaker John Leahy.

Although Mr Leahy signed off with a record deal at the Dubai Airshow this month, Mr Schulz will inherit a Toulouse sales organisation unsettled by other defeats and seeking stability amid UK and French corruption investigations into commercial jet sales.