MIAMI — After serving for almost nine years as Delta Air Lines CEO, the controversial and colorful Richard Anderson has announced his retirement, to be effective on May 2, 2016. He will be succeeded by Ed Bastian, current President of the Atlanta-based carrier. Sources tell Airways that Anderson himself elected to not to renew his contract.

“Richard has been an outstanding leader and CEO.  His unique combination of strategic and operating skills, plus his commitment to employees, corporate culture, customers and shareholders has redefined Delta and led to an entirely new and better way of flying around the world” said Dan Carp, who will step down as non-executive chairman, while remaining on the board.

Richard Anderson, Delta Air Lines CEO. (Credits: Delta Air Lines)
Richard Anderson, Delta Air Lines CEO. (Credits: Delta Air Lines)

Richard Anderson’s more than 25 years of aviation experience began in 1987 at Continental Airlines. In 1990, he began a 14-year career at Northwest Airlines where he progressed to chief executive officer, a position he held from 2001 to 2004. In September 2007, Richard joined Delta from United Health Group.

Anderson joined Delta’s Board of Directors in April 2007 and became CEO in September of that year. Under his leadership, Delta has become an operation and profit making machine that is the envy of the industry worldwide. The last year, the carrier booked an annual profit of $4.5 billion.

“The entire Board of Directors extends a hearty thanks for his service, his leadership and his thoughtful succession planning process.  This succession plan has been several years in the making and will keep Delta on top of the global industry,” Carp said.

Anderson’s bold moves have reshaped the industry. Considered the mastermind behind the merger between Northwest Airlines and Delta, he opened the path to a massive consolidation in the U.S. airline industry—and to an unusual period of high profits. Last July, Delta took a 3.6 percent of China Eastern Airlines Corp. In September, the U.S. airline threefolded its stake in Brazilian carrier GOL Linhas Aereas, and back in 2012, agreed to buy 49 percent of Virgin Atlantic Airways, establishing a joint-venture.

Last year, he became one of the leading voices behind a heated dispute between U.S. Legacy carriers (Delta, American and United) and Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways), which Anderson accused to have benefited from government subsidies, allowing them to move into the US market under existing US / Middle East open skies agreements.

During an interview, Anderson also cited a “great irony” that the 9/11 terrorists originated from the same region as these Middle East airlines. He also openly opposed the reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and complained about the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic management modernization plan.

Recently, Anderson surprised the industry when in an Oct. 14 earnings call, he said Delta had been offered a decade-old Boeing 777-200 for $10 million, reviving concerns on a potential market bubble for some widebody models. Later, during the airline’s Investor’s Day, held on December 17, he clarified his remarks.

Ed Bastian will assume the role of CEO immediately after Anderson’s retirement.

“Ed (Bastian) has been a critical part of Delta’s success.  He is an exceptional leader and has been an invaluable partner in leading the remarkable transformation of Delta over the last decade.” Richard Anderson commented.

Ed Bastian, Delta Air Lines President. (Credits: Delta Air Lines)
Ed Bastian, Delta Air Lines President. (Credits: Delta Air Lines)

Some of the other executive changes include: Glen Hauenstein, current Executive Vice President, will be appointed President of Delta and Gil West will be promoted to Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Frank Blake, a current Delta Director, will be the new Lead Director of the Delta Air Lines’ Board of Directors.

Richard Anderson will still be around, as he will assume the role of Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors.

This is the second major management shuffle in the U.S. airline industry within the last thirty days. Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza was replaced by former AirTran Holdings CEO Robert Fornaro on January 5th of this year.