IAG Chief Willie Walsh to retire

International Airlines Group CEO Willie Walsh is to stand down from the board and as CEO form March 26th and will formally retire in June. He leaves at roughly the same time another modern airline legend, Sir Tim Clarke of Emirates, also retires.

Walsh was a pilot with Aer Lingus who eventually rose to run British Airways, he drove the creation of IAG when BA purchased a then failed and near bankrupt Iberia. That came about after a failed attempt to merge with KLM, which eventually joined Air France.

Walsh has a remarkably pragmatic approach to business, no time for unions or staff concerns and says what he means, firmly and with little padding.

IAG has since returned Iberia to profit. It purchased Aer Lingus – something of a personal victory for Walsh, acquired Vueling, is in the middle of buying AirEuropa via Iberia, created LEVEL as a European low cost long and mid haul operator, and shows no sign of stopping.

Many fans of BA have despaired of the accountant driven service cuts, the slashing of standards. Especially business and first class customers who still don’t feel, despite millions in reinvestment, that BA is what it was. Its short haul operations are considered little better than RyanAir. Long haul premium and economy operations are also considered sub standard compared to much of the competition. Yet it makes substantial profits.

Walsh also drove sponsorship of Oneworld for Qatar and AirBerlin, as well as establishing the joint venture with American Airlines and Finnair.

Not everything has worked. Walsh was very keen to push into the Chinese market but its not actually gotten anywhere near as far as was expected. He tried to buy Norwegian but gave up because a price couldn’t be agreed.

One of Walsh’s biggest impacts was on aircraft purchases. Mostly unbothered by global warming and Co2, he was only interested in costs. Old aircraft were kept going as long as possible, used aircraft purchased, hard line decisions made over more A380’s and more 777-300ER’s. His biggest coup was the near shocking agreement to order 200 737MAX’s at what is certain to have been a bargain price just as Boeing needed a boost most.