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Luis Gallego, the Iberia chief set to lead airline group IAG 

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Luis Gallego, the Iberia chief set to lead airline group IAG 

International Airlines Group

Luis Gallego, the Iberia chief set to lead airline group IAG 

Spaniard oversaw turnround at flag carrier while becoming top lieutenant for Willie Walsh 

Luis Gallego steered Iberia through a turbulent period after taking over the ailing airline in 2013 © Bloomberg

Iberia boss Luis Gallego’s promotion to succeed Willie Walsh as chief executive of IAG elevates a company insider who has run the Spanish flag carrier for almost seven years to one of the biggest jobs in the global airline industry. 

The Spaniard was one of Mr Walsh’s top lieutenants at IAG, the parent company formed by the £5bn merger between British Airways and Iberia in 2011. 

Mr Gallego steered Iberia through a difficult period after taking over as chief executive of the ailing airline in 2013 at a time when it was racking up huge quarterly losses and engaged in a long-running battle with its workforce. He became executive chairman of the airline in 2014.

He oversaw a politically sensitive and contentious restructuring, which involved untangling the carrier’s unwieldy cost structures as it struggled to compete with nimbler rivals. Iberia returned to profitability in 2014 after shedding thousands of jobs and cutting the salaries of many remaining employees, as well as revamping its branding and modernising its fleet.

Mr Walsh, the key architect in the creation of IAG, said Mr Gallego had shown “true leadership over the years”.

James Goodall, an airlines analyst at broker Redburn, said Mr Gallego “has an exceptional record, turning around Iberia over the past five years”.

“IAG has good succession planning in place and we see the promotion of Luis Gallego as a good option,” he added. 

A graduate in aeronautical engineering and business management, Mr Gallego began his career training officers in the Spanish air force before moving into senior positions in the country’s airline industry. These included stints at regional carrier Air Nostrum and the now defunct Clickair, which was merged into low-cost carrier Vueling, which is also part of IAG. 

Mr Gallego, who comes from the industrial district of Getafe outside Madrid is a passionate fan of the Real Madrid football team. “These days they don’t let me have a television in my office,” he once told Marca, the Spanish sports newspaper. “But I couldn’t study unless I had the television on [showing sport] . . . I would get hugely bored.”

Mr Gallego, who will begin his new role at the end of June, said it was “a huge honour” to take over as group chief executive. “It is an exciting time at IAG and I am confident that we can build on the strong foundations created by Willie.”

One of Mr Gallego’s first tasks will be to see through the integration of Spanish airline Air Europa, a deal IAG announced in November and is expected to close in the second half of this year if it can gain regulatory approval. 

Willie Walsh

Timeline of an airline executive

Willie Walsh, 58, is to step down as IAG chief executive in March © Bloomberg

2001-2005

Willie Walsh is chief executive of Aer Lingus, where he had joined as a cadet and become a pilot aged 17. He is dubbed “Slasher Walsh” after he cut 2,000 jobs and sold the company’s art collection

2005 

Mr Walsh takes over as chief executive of British Airways, a role he holds until 2011

2010

BA, American Airlines and Iberia agree to co-operate commercially on flights between Europe and North America after more than a decade of talks

2011

Mr Walsh moves to take the helm of IAG after he orchestrated the merger of BA and Spain’s Iberia to form the holding company International Airlines Group

2015

IAG buys Ireland’s national airline Aer Lingus

August 2016

Qatar Airways increases its stake in IAG to more than 20 per cent

May 2017 

Computer problems ground several British Airways flights to become one of the worst IT failures to strike a global airline

June 2017

IAG launches low-cost long-haul airline Level

2018

IAG eyes the possibility of taking over Norwegian Air, buying then disposing of a chunk of the low-cost carrier’s shares when its proposals are rebuffed

September 2019

BA suffers first pilot strike in its history

October 2019

IAG reports a fall in profits following the pilots’ 48-hour strike

November 2019

Mr Walsh says he plans to retire within two years, keeping to a promise he would go before he turns 60 on October 25 2021. On the same day IAG says it will almost halve its planned expansion over the next three years

January 9 2020

Mr Walsh says he will retire in March

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