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International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh has announced he will retire in June after nine years at the top.
Walsh will stand down from his role and from the group’s board on 26 March, with his retirement to follow on 30 June.
IAG has appointed Iberia CEO Luis Gallego to succeed him.
Walsh was promoted to chief executive at Aer Lingus in 2001 and was instrumental in turning the airline around at a time of financial hardship by remodelling it as a low-cost carrier. He resigned from the role in 2005 after the Irish government, a major shareholder, turned down the suggestion of floating the company on the stock market.
He then joined British Airways as chief exec in 2005. Walsh oversaw the merger of BA and Iberia to form IAG in 2011 and also created a joint business that still exists today with American Airlines.
Upon the creation of IAG, Walsh became CEO of the holding company. Today, its carriers include BA, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Level and Vueling, as well as the Avios loyalty scheme, a cargo arm and a business services provider. It recently agreed a €1 billion deal to buy Air Europa.
Walsh has been one of the most vocal airline group executives in the industry’s call for the UK government to reduce Air Passenger Duty (APD), saying the charges are preventing carriers such as Level from establishing new routes from the country. He has also criticised spending at Heathrow airport – where IAG is the biggest customer – particularly in relation to its plan to build a third runway.
Commenting on his decision to retire, Walsh said: “It has been a privilege to have been instrumental in the creation and development of IAG. I have had the pleasure of working with many exceptional people over the past 15 years at British Airways and at IAG. Luis has been a core member of the team and has shown true leadership over the years and I have no doubt he will be a great CEO of IAG.”
IAG chairman Antonio Vazquez said: “Willie has led the merger and successful integration of British Airways and Iberia to form IAG. Under Willie’s leadership IAG has become one of the leading global airline groups.
“Willie has been the main driver of this unique idea that is IAG. I hugely admire his commitment, strong leadership and clear vision, always ready to take on whatever challenges lay ahead of him. I am deeply respectful of what he has achieved as CEO of this group, of his sense of fairness, his transparency and his capacity to integrate people regardless of nationalities or backgrounds.”
Gallego has been chief executive at Iberia since 2014. He began his carrier in the Spanish Air Force and has since worked in the airline industry for Aviaco, Air Nostrum and Clickair prior to its merger with Vueling.
Vazquez continued: “Willie has established a strong management team and I am delighted that Luis will be promoted from this team to succeed Willie as CEO. Luis started his career in the airline industry in 1997 with Air Nostrum and, since 2014, has been CEO of Iberia where he has led a profound transformation of this airline. The board is confident that Luis is the right person to lead IAG in the next stage of its development and we look forward to working closely with Luis in his new role.”
Gallego added: “It has been a great pleasure to work with Willie over the last seven years. It is a huge honour to lead this great company. It is an exciting time at IAG and I am confident that we can build on the strong foundations created by Willie.”
Gallego’s successor at Iberia will be named at a later date.