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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March, 2005, 16:39 GMT
Aer Lingus ex-chief to head up BA
Willie Walsh
Mr Walsh will take over at BA in September
The former boss of Aer Lingus, Willie Walsh, will be the next chief executive of British Airways.

BA said Mr Walsh would take over from current chief executive Rod Eddington on his retirement in September.

BA chairman Martin Broughton said Mr Eddington had "performed miracles" at the airline and had "transformed our business beyond recognition".

He added that in appointing Mr Walsh "we have captured the very best person for the job".

'Outstanding opportunity'

Mr Walsh said the move was "an outstanding opportunity to be at the helm of what many people see as the best airline in the world and I'm very excited at the prospect of joining the team".

Many commentators have rightly said that Rod Eddington will be a hard act to follow
Martin Broughton, BA chairman

The 43-year-old left Aer Lingus in January - several months ahead of his anticipated departure date - along with several of his senior colleagues.

He was reported to be frustrated that the airline remained in public ownership and to have been in talks about setting up a rival airline, leading to accusations of a conflict of interest.

Mr Walsh denied any conflict of interest but declined to confirm or deny that he had been planning to set up a rival carrier.

He joined Aer Lingus as a 17-year-old cadet pilot in 1979, becoming chief executive in 2001.

He took over as airlines flew into a sharp business downturn following the September 11 attacks and was responsible for repositioning Aer Lingus as an airline with lower fares, fewer frills and fewer staff.

Turbulent

Mr Eddington joined BA in May 2000 and one of his early decisions was to bring back the union flag on the planes' tail fins.

Since taking the helm, Mr Eddington has endured some turbulent times, following the Concorde disaster, the post-September 11 travel slump and the Sars epidemic.

He also led the airline's "Future Size and Shape" review - which led to more than 13,000 jobs being axed and an overhaul of BA's route network.

However, the changes did lead to some problems at the airline, with staff staging wildcat strikes over changes to working practises, while staff shortages during the summer led to serious delays and flight cancellations.

BA later apologised for the chaos, with Mr Eddington admitting the company "got it wrong".

Driving out costs

Mr Broughton was full of praise for Mr Eddington's performance.

"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," he said.

"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."

Mr Broughton said Mr Walsh's success in leading Aer Lingus back into profit proved he was up to the task, adding "many commentators expected Aer Lingus to follow airlines such as Swissair and Sabena into oblivion".

Shares in British Airways rose on the news to close 1.63% higher at 281 pence.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
A profile of the new BA chief



SEE ALSO:
British Airways boss 'to depart'
06 Mar 05 |  Business
High fuel prices hit BA's profits
04 Feb 05 |  Business
Executive trio leave Aer Lingus
12 Jan 05 |  Business
Q&A: How well is BA performing?
04 Feb 05 |  Business


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