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CEO of British Airways stepping down

/ Source: The Associated Press

British Airways PLC Chief Executive Rod Eddington is stepping down later this year and will be replaced by a former head of Irish carrier Aer Lingus who left that carrier amid a dispute with the government, British Airways said Tuesday.

BA said one-time Aer Lingus CEO Willie Walsh will begin work as its chief executive-designate on May 3 and become CEO when Eddington retires at the end of September after more than five years with the airline.

“Many commentators have rightly said that Rod Eddington will be a hard act to follow but I am completely confident that in Willie we have captured the very best person for the job,” said BA chairman Martin Broughton.

Eddington, who is Australian, has led BA through bumpy times since he joined the airline in May 2000. He oversaw a tough restructuring program to cut costs and debt as the carrier faced heavy competition from successful no-frills challengers like easyJet and Ryanair and struggled through the industry downturn that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America. He has cut 13,000 jobs.

Speculation that Eddington, 55, would leave BA soon had been widespread for weeks. He is reportedly anxious to return to Australia, where he holds several non-executive directorships, including one at the media group News Corp.

“Rod has performed miracles at British Airways and he will leave us with the best wishes of the board, the work force and our shareholders,” Broughton said. “Rod has transformed our business beyond recognition through his determined focus to drive out costs whilst ensuring the airline never loses sight of the highest standards of customer service.”

Walsh left Aer Lingus in January following accusations from the Irish government that he had a conflict of interest, which he denied.

Irish lawmakers demanded in January that Walsh, 43, and two other Aer Lingus executives speed their planned resignations after newspapers reported they hoped to set up a new airline to compete with Aer Lingus.

The executives left early, but Walsh denied he had a conflict of interest, saying that launching a rival business or joining a competitor after he left would be normal business practice.

He took charge of Aer Lingus in 2000, when the company had a bloated payroll and was losing millions of dollars a day. He slashed air fares and staff while broadly expanding routes to European destinations, returning the airline to profitability — in contrast to many other state-owned airlines in Europe.

“Willie has an outstanding reputation in the airline industry around the world for the way in which he transformed the fortunes of Aer Lingus from a high-cost underperforming carrier into a successful and profitable entity,” Broughton said. “At British Airways he will focus his efforts and energies on what our customer base demands which are quality service and value for money.”