PARIS — Airbus is replacing its combative, long-serving sales chief with a Rolls Royce executive as the European plane maker tries to stay competitive with Boeing.

Eric Schulz will take over as chief of sales for Airbus commercial planes in January, the company said Tuesday, calling it “a critical juncture of our company’s development.”

Airbus praised outgoing top salesman John Leahy as “a living legend” for overseeing sales of more than 90 percent of Airbus planes ever sold. Leahy, 67, had been expected to retire soon after 23 years in the position.

Before joining Rolls Royce, Schulz also worked at Air France, Goodrich and other companies in the industry.

Airbus recently lost out to Boeing in a major deal with Gulf carrier Emirates, and is also facing corruption investigations in three countries.

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