The International Air Transport Association on Monday surprised the aviation world with the announcement that former International Airlines Group (LN: IAG) CEO Willie Walsh, one of the airline industry’s highest-profile executives, will succeed Alexandre de Juniac as director general, effective March 31.
IATA said de Juniac notified its board of governors several months ago of his intention to resign, but the news came as a shock to people in the organization and the airline industry.
Walsh, 59, was a driving force behind the merger of British Airways and Iberia in 2011 and the creation of IAG, which now also counts Aer Lingus, Vueling and LEVEL as subsidiaries.
Walsh postponed his planned retirement in March to help IAG through the coronavirus crisis. He finally stepped down in late September and was replaced by Iberia chief Luis Gallego.
“I did not come to this decision lightly. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve the global air transport industry — what I call the business of freedom — as the head of IATA,” de Juniac said in a statement. “Over the last years IATA has strategically increased its relevance as the voice of the global airline industry. This has been evident in the COVID-19 crisis. IATA has set the course to restore air connectivity amid the pandemic with systematic pre-departure testing.
“We are well into preparations to fulfill critical vaccine distribution needs. In parallel, we have restructured IATA to survive the crisis and be ready to support the industry recovery with an organization dimensioned to serve a smaller industry. And we have a motivated team that is determined to get the job done. The building blocks for an industry recovery are in place. And now is the right time to hand over IATA’s leadership for the long process of recovery,” said de Juniac.
IATA is reducing its workforce by 20% to cope with the reduced fees members are able to contribute as they struggle with financial fallout from drastically lower passenger business during the coronavirus pandemic. Several high-level managers are departing, including Glynn Hughes, the head of global cargo, Gordon Wright, the head of cargo border management, and Cargo Network Services President Michael White.
The International Air Cargo Association this month selected Hughes as its new leader, starting in February.
De Juniac joined IATA in September 2016 from Air France-KLM, where he was chairman and CEO.
“Alexandre has led our industry in extraordinary times. Under his leadership IATA has become a stronger and an even more relevant organization,” said Carsten Spohr, chair of the IATA board and CEO of Lufthansa.
Walsh became CEO of IAG in January 2011, joining from British Airways, where he had been CEO since October 2005. Prior to BA, Walsh was CEO of Irish carrier Aer Lingus. He joined Aer Lingus in 1979 as a cadet pilot, making captain in 1990 before moving into management.
Walsh will be formally appointed at IATA’s annual general meeting on Tuesday.
IATA is urging governments to follow risk-management techniques and systematic testing as a way to reopen borders, saying quarantines are too blunt, ineffective and damaging to a global airline industry needed for economic recovery.