PARIS, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Airbus said on Tuesday it had appointed aircraft industry veteran Jeff Knittel to be the next head of its American operations, starting in 2018.
Knittel is a high-profile figure in the aircraft leasing industry who until recently served as president of CIT Transportation Finance, up until its $10 billion acquisition by Dublin-based Avolon.
He will join the European company on Jan. 12 next year as chairman and chief executive of Airbus Americas, Airbus said.
He will combine the roles of Barry Eccleston, the unit's chief executive who plans to retire next February, and Allan McArtor, its chairman who will maintain an honorary role.
Knittel joins Airbus at a time when it faces an ongoing trade dispute with Boeing (NYSE: BA - news) over mutual accusations of unfair subsidies, while inheriting a trade row between Canada and the United States after agreeing last month to buy the CSeries jet programme from Bombardier (Toronto: BBD-A.TO - news) , which Boeing has accused of dumping.
Airbus operates an assembly line in Alabama and says it employs 5,000 people in the United States.
The decision to recruit another outsider to replace former Rolls-Royce executive Eccleston reflects efforts to inject new blood after Boeing hired a senior engine maker to run its commercial unit, while Latin American head Rafael Alonso is also said to be approaching retirement within the next year.
Airbus is also in the midst of choosing a new sales chief to replace John Leahy, who is due to retire at end-year.
Candidates include the head of turboprop maker ATR, Christian Scherer, and the search may extend to the senior ranks of Rolls-Royce, people familiar with the process say.
Another former head of a large leasing company, Henri Courpron, was reported to be among the possible contenders for the sales supremo role but told Reuters he had decided to stay focused on his U.S.-based consultancy firm, Plane View Partners. (Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and David Evans)