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IAG Chief Executive Willie Walsh to Retire in June

A British Airways 777-200 taxing to its gate after landing in Austin. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Mateen Kontoravdis)

International Airlines Group (IAG) announced Thursday that chief executive officer Willie Walsh will step down from his current role and the board of IAG on March 26 and will formally retire on June 30. The chairman of IAG Antonio Vázquez praised Walsh’s achievements at the multi-national airline holding company which is the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Iberia Express, Vueling, Aer Lingus and LEVEL. IAG is registered as a Spanish company with its operational headquarters in London,

In a press release issued Thursday morning Vázquez said: “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.”

IAG Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh (Photo: IAG)

Walsh began his airline career as a cadet pilot at Aer Lingus in 1979. During his time as a pilot, he undertook post-graduate studies eventually moving into management roles within the airline. In the 1990s he worked for Futura International Airways, a Spanish airline which Aer Lingus had a stake in, eventually becoming chief executive.

Upon returning to Aer Lingus in 2000 as chief operating officer he quickly became the troubled airline’s ninth CEO in ten years in 2001. Under his leadership the Irish airline restructured its business model as it faced increased competition from Ryanair. A controversial move at the time but the strategy proved successful for the long-term survival and profitability of the airline.

British Airways’ first A350-1000 after arriving at London Heathrow. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Walsh gained a higher profile within the aviation industry when he succeeded Rod Eddington as chief executive officer of British Airways, after a short-term with the U.K. carrier’s long-haul rival Virgin Atlantic. In his tenure as CEO of British Airways, Walsh oversaw the restructure of the legacy carrier through the global financial crisis and an eventual merger with Spain’s Iberia in 2011.

The latter event resulted in the formation of IAG and Mr Walsh’s promotion to chief executive of the International Airlines Group of which he said on Thursday: “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.”

The board of IAG announced that current Iberia chief executive Luis Gallego will be Willie Walsh’s successor. Vázquez said: “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.” IAG is close to completing its bid for Spanish carrier Air Europa within the first half of this year with the carrier expected to be incorporated within Iberia. Walsh added: “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.”

A successor to Mr Gallego at Iberia has yet to be named.

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John is currently the course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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