Willie Walsh''s retirement as boss of IAG ''won''t change Aer Lingus plans''

Willie Walsh''s retirement as boss of IAG ''won''t change Aer Lingus plans''

The retirement of Dubliner Willie Walsh from the IAG airline conglomerate he created will likely have little effect on the growth plans at Aer Lingus any time soon.

Mr Walsh said he will retire this summer from running the group of airlines, which includes British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and Vueling.

He will be succeeded by the current boss at Iberia, Spaniard Luis Gallego.

A former pilot, Mr Walsh went on to run Aer Lingus before leaving to become chief executive at British Airways. He subsequently engineered the merger of the British flag carrier with Spain’s national champion Iberia, under the IAG banner.

The coming together of national carriers was not a new idea: The French and Dutch governments had allowed the once unlikely combination of Air France and KLM to go ahead but Mr Walsh’s IAG still met with much scepticism at the time.

Allowing BA, Iberia and then the Vueling brands to maintain their identities and giving the airlines some level of independence nonetheless became a remarkably successful strategy under Mr Walsh.

The perceived success of the BA and Iberia pairing helped bolster Mr Walsh’s case when he wooed the Government and then transport minister Paschal Donohoe to let IAG buy out Aer Lingus almost five years ago

There were many concerns that the Walsh-led IAG had its eyes set on grabbing the 24 or so paired slots that Aer Lingus owned from Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Shannon into crowded Heathrow.

The trade unions were also among some of the fiercest critics, initially arguing that Cork and Shannon airports would lose out as IAG developed its international services out of its Dublin hub, at the expense of the other Irish airports. Academic experts also questioned whether the takeover was in the long-term interests of business and tourism across Ireland.

Mr Walsh won the argument. He succeeded in persuading the Government not to use its 25% stake in Aer Lingus to block IAG, which valued the stockmarket-listed Irish airline at almost €1.4bn. The sale also freed the Government of the over 29% shareholding Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair had built up in Aer Lingus.

Mark Simpson, a senior analyst at Goodbody, said the takeover allowed Aer Lingus to plan new aircraft purchases and develop new transatlantic routes.

Under Mr Gallego, there were no concerns that the growth strategy set down by Mr Walsh for Aer Lingus will change, Mr Simpson said. Creating IAG and improving the financial performance of the constituent airlines will be Mr Walsh’s legacy, the analyst said.

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