Police searched the Paris headquarters of Airbus parent EADS and one of its main shareholders on Tuesday as part of an insider trading probe, judicial officials said. The search came just hours before the company's flagship Airbus A380 was expected to get final approval for commercial service.
Paris prosecutors opened an investigation three weeks ago into possible insider dealing in shares of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. Noel Forgeard, the defense company's ousted co-chief executive, and dozens of his former colleagues sold off EADS stock in the weeks before the company ordered an internal study of delays to the A380.
Paris-based Lagardere SCA, which was also searched Tuesday, and Germany's DaimlerChrysler AG announced they were reducing their EADS stakes at around the same time.
EADS shares lost more than a quarter of their value in one day after the production problems were announced in June. Investigators from France's Financial Markets Authority carried out searches at EADS and Airbus offices later the same month.
The judicial officials who described Tuesday's searches asked not to be named, citing French rules on the confidentiality of investigations.
The search came the same day that U.S. and European aviation authorities were expected to approve the Airbus A380 for commercial service, the last official hurdle before the much-delayed superjumbo is due to be delivered first to Singapore Airlines in October next year.
Representatives from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency were scheduled to hand over airworthiness certificates for the world's largest passenger plane at a ceremony hosted by Airbus at its headquarters in Toulouse, France, later Tuesday.
Airbus test pilot Claude Lelaie told reporters last week that the FAA and EASA had agreed to clear the plane for commercial service soon after one of the five A380 test planes completed 70,000 nautical miles of so-called "route proving" _ a series of long-haul flights with short stopovers, designed to simulate airline operations in extreme conditions.
Completed Nov. 30, the 18-day final stage of the program took the test plane _ serial number MSN002 _ to 10 airports in the Asia-Pacific region, including takeoffs and landings at high-altitude and snowbound runways.
During the test program, which began in April last year with the closely-watched first flight, the A380 test planes have carried out more than 2,600 hours of flights in total.
Tuesday's ceremony provides some welcome respite for Airbus and for the A380 program, hit by a series of costly production setbacks that wiped 4.8 billion euros ($6.3 billion) off expected profits.
The increased delay (now totaling two years) led to the sacking of senior officials including Forgeard.