British Airways chief executive Alex Cruz has stepped down after four turbulent years in charge as the airline and global aviation industry face their worst crisis in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In an abrupt leadership change, Mr Cruz will be replaced by Aer Lingus chief executive Sean Doyle with immediate effect in a management shake-up by Luis Gallego, new boss of parent company IAG.
It is the first significant decision by Mr Gallego, who took over from Willie Walsh at IAG just over a month ago.
“We’re navigating the worst crisis faced in our industry and I’m confident these internal promotions will ensure IAG is well placed to emerge in a strong position,” Mr Gallego said.
Mr Cruz was appointed BA chairman and chief executive in 2016 by Mr Walsh with the task of making it more cost-efficient and to help it compete with budget rivals.
But the coronavirus crisis has taken a heavy toll on the airline, forcing it to cut about 10,000 jobs, about a quarter of its workforce, as it reduced flight schedules and was plunged into tough negotiations with unions.
A group of MPs branded BA a “national disgrace” over its decision to shed jobs.
Mr Cruz will remain with BA as its non-executive chairman for a transition period before handing that role as well to Mr Doyle, who returns to lead BA following two years in charge of the Irish carrier.
He had previously served in a number of senior management roles in 20 years at BA between 1998 and 2018.
Mr Cruz was already a lightning rod for criticism from passengers, unions and politicians before the pandemic following a series of crises, including a data breach in 2018 that resulted in a fine of more than £180m and the airline’s first pilot strike in its history last year.
While BA’s job cuts were similar to actions taken by other airlines, Mr Cruz dropped a controversial threat to “fire and rehire” thousands of staff on lower pay following negotiations with unions.
“Alex Cruz presided over the worst attack on BA employees in the entire history of the company,” said Nadine Houghton, an officer at the GMB union, which had been in bitter dispute with BA over the cuts.
“Cruz is now the scapegoat for BA’s catastrophic threat of fire and rehire. His departure should be a stern warning for any other CEO believing it’s a tactic they can get away with lightly.”
Speaking to MPs in what was one of his final public appearances as BA boss, Mr Cruz said the airline had cut staff and costs to “make sure we can actually make it through this winter”.
IAG has a history of looking internally for promotions. At Aer Lingus, Donal Moriarty, the airline’s chief corporate affairs officer, will become interim chief executive.
The pandemic has hammered the aviation business, with travellers avoiding flying.
Last week, easyJet warned it was expecting to suffer its first annual loss in its 25-year history, while Stansted, Manchester and East Midlands airports said almost 900 jobs were at risk after cuts in travel demand.
Global airlines body Iata has also called for an urgent rescue plan to stop the UK falling behind international competitors.
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