(L-R) Captain Chris Holden, Willie Walsh (CEO of IAG), Senior First Officer Mitch Preston and Captain Jerry Palmer with British Airways first Boeing 787 Dreamliner at London Heathrow on 27 June 2013 (Credits: Nick Morrish/British Airways)

MIAMI — Willie Walsh, the Chief Executive Officer of International Airlines Group (IAG), will be stepping down from the helm of one of the largest and most successful airline conglomerates in the world.

Founded in January 2011, Walsh took the CEO position from the offset at IAG, rapidly transforming it into an airline group formed by British Airways (BA), Iberia (IB), Vueling (VY), Aer Lingus (EI), and Level (LV).

Walsh’s stepping down will take place in two stages—on March 26, he will stand down from his role as CEO and from the Board of IAG. On June 30, he will retire completely.

Luis Gallego, the current CEO at Iberia, will succeed Walsh in his role.

William M. Walsh – CEO of IAG (International Airlines Group). Taken: 15th December 2016 at IAG Madrid Office. Picture by: Stuart Bailey

“It has been a great pleasure to work with Willie over the last seven years,” said Gallego. “It is a huge honor to lead this great company. It is an exciting time at IAG and I am confident that we can build on the strong foundations created by Willie.”

Walsh’s career started inside of British Airways in May 2005, with him taking the reigns of the airline in October 2005, after shadowing the former CEO, Rod Eddington, for six months.

Walsh conceded that “it has been a privilege to have been instrumental in the creation and development of IAG. I have had the pleasure of working with many exceptional people over the past 15 years at British Airways and at IAG. Luis has been a core member of the team and has shown true leadership over the years and I have no doubt he will be a great CEO of IAG.”

Antonio Vazquez, IAG chairman, noted that “Willie has led the merger and successful integration of British Airways and Iberia to form IAG. Under Willie’s leadership, IAG has become one of the leading global airline groups.”

“Willie has been the main driver of this unique idea that is IAG. I hugely admire his commitment, strong leadership and clear vision, always ready to take on whatever challenges lay ahead of him. I am deeply respectful of what he has achieved as CEO of this Group, of his sense of fairness, his transparency and his capacity to integrate people regardless of nationalities or backgrounds,” Vasquez added.

Industry expert and editor of headforpoints.com, Rob Burgess, noted that even though “not everyone likes Willie, you have to be impressed by his achievements at IAG.” 

“Aer Lingus and Iberia have been transformed since becoming part of the group. British Airways may not be popular with the public but it is, financially, remarkably successful,” added Burgess.

As far as Luis Gallego is concerned, he will become the new CEO after a very successful venture at the helm of Iberia.

Gallego started his career in the airline industry in 1997 with Air Nostrum. Since 2014, he has been CEO of Iberia.

“Luis has overseen a real transformation at Iberia,” added Burgess. “He has invested in a brand-new long-haul fleet with a good premium product, and the route network has grown sharply. Costs have come down sharply as the over-staffing of the state-run days has been addressed.”

Burgess notes that Gallego’s first task at IAG “will be to get competition clearance for the cheeky €1 billion Air Europa acquisition, which will give Iberia an astonishing 73% market share of Spanish domestic flights if approved untouched.”

“The Board is confident that Luis is the right person to lead IAG in the next stage of its development and we look forward to working closely with Luis in his new role.”

Walsh’s announcement becomes the second major retirement in the aviation arena in less than three months. Just recently, Tim Clark, current CEO at Emirates, also announced his departure from the helm of the Dubai-based giant.