Stephen Kavanagh named Aer Lingus CEO

Stephen Kavanagh’s appointment as Aer Lingus chief executive has been heralded as a positive development by analysts.

A long-time Aer Lingus employee, Mr Kavanagh was yesterday named as the successor to outgoing CEO Christoph Müller, and will begin his new role on March 1.

Mr Kavanagh has been with the airline for more than 26 years, serving most recently as chief strategy and planning officer, having previously served as chief commercial officer from 2009.

It was announced last July that Mr Müller, who will take over at Malaysia Airlines, was to leave Aer Lingus, with his departure date subsequently moved forward from May to the end of this month.

Merrion Stockbrokers head of research David Holohan welcomed the appointment of Mr Kavanagh, who he heralded as “a natural selection” to lead the airline given his prior achievements.

“This is a positive development for Aer Lingus and ends what has been a drawn out process for the selection of a successor to Mr Müller,” said Mr Holohan. “Given that Mr Kavanagh was instrumental in the development of the current Aer Lingus long haul route network, he was a natural selection given his extensive knowledge of the airline’s operations in both short and long haul.”

The news comes during intense focus on the airline, which is subject to a €2.55 per share takeover bid from Willie Walsh’s International Airlines Group (IAG).

Mr Walsh, a former chief executive of Aer Lingus, led a charm offensive last week, appearing on a number of media outlets in addition to meetings with elected representatives, in an attempt to gain support for his controversial takeover proposal.

Despite his assurances that legally binding guarantees over the retention of Aer Lingus’s valuable Heathrow slots as well as a guarantee that current routes to Irish airports would be maintained for at least five years would be included in the deal, reservations still exist among many TDs.

Speaking at the announcement of €50m capital investment programme at Foynes Port in Co Limerick, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe congratulated Mr Kavanagh on his appointment and reiterated that the Government is currently evaluating the IAG bid.

“This is a region and a county that only knows too well how important regional connectivity is for economic growth and development,” said Mr Donohoe. “I’m going to take great care and take time to make sure we make the right recommendation for the country.”

Mr Walsh’s appearance at the Oireachtas transport committee last week allowed a full airing of all reaction to the proposed takeover, the minister added.

Mr Holohan said Mr Kavanagh would act as a key driver of the airline’s growth going forward either as a standalone business or as part of the management under IAG should the successfully acquire Aer Lingus — a development the Merrion analyst believes is becoming increasing difficult for the Government to stand in the way of.

“We believe there is an increasing momentum for the deal to receive a positive reception from its stakeholders and the Government will increasingly struggle to identify any reason not to provide full support for the proposed offer,” Mr Holohan said.

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