WASHINGTON — European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. on Tuesday named General Electric's Sean O'Keefe as chief executive of its North American division, effective Nov. 1.
O'Keefe is set to replace the current CEO of EADS North America, Ralph Crosby, who will remain as nonexecutive chairman. Crosby will also oversee EADS's role in the Air Force's troubled $35 billion aerial refueling tanker competition.
The decision was announced by EADS chief executive Louis Gallois in Washington. He, along with O'Keefe, met briefly with U.S. lawmakers from states including Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and California, which have EADS business operations.
Airbus parent EADS and partner Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. are locked in a highly politicized battle with Boeing over a lucrative contract to replace the Air Force's 179 aerial refueling tankers.
The Air Force has tried and failed twice to award a contract to replace its Eisenhower-era fleet of tankers that refuel military planes in flight.
The last attempt in early 2008 was overturned on appeal and led Pentagon leaders to temporarily revoke the Air Force's authority to award a contract. The 2004 award to Boeing was undone by an ethics scandal that resulted in prison terms for a former company executive and a former high-ranking Air Force official.
Last month, the Air Force released its draft request for bids for a new competition between the two rivals.
O'Keefe, a former vice president of GE Aviation's Washington operations, said he would not only leverage his Beltway experience in Washington in his new post, but also his growing awareness of a town that has become representative of a broader international community.
GE makes the engine for the Airbus A330 refueling aircraft that EADS and Northrop offered in the last round.
O'Keefe also served as acting Navy secretary and headed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration from 2001 to 2005.
The company says Crosby will remain on the parent company's executive committee through the transition. O'Keefe will become a member of that committee starting Jan. 1.