International Airlines Group CEO stepping down

British Airways aircraft on the ramp

One of the airline industry’s highest-profile executives is retiring. International Airlines Group CEO Willie Walsh will step down from his role and from the IAG board on March 26 and will retire on June 30, the company said Thursday. The 58-year-old Walsh will be succeeded by Iberia Chief Executive Luis Gallego.

Willie Walsh Image: Delta

Walsh 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. In early November, IAG announced a deal to acquire Spanish carrier Air Europa for €1 billion ($1.1 billion). The acquisition is expected to close in the second half of 2020.

IAG Cargo operates hubs at London Heathrow, where it handles 500,000 metric tons of freight a year, Madrid with 200,000 metric tons and Dublin, 30,000 metric tons. The company’s 2019 cargo traffic was down 2.4% from the previous year.

On the passenger side, IAG airlines carried more than 118 million passengers last year, up from roughly 113 million in 2018, and passenger traffic increased 5.6%, according to statistics released Thursday. British Airways operations were impacted in the second half of 2019 by a strike by its pilots union over pay. An agreement between the pilots and carrier was reached in December.

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.