Jetstar Asia has announced that its chief executive Chong Phit Lian will be stepping down and that an executive search for a Singaporean to take over the position is in its advanced stages.

Chong, who has been chief of the low-cost carrier since 2006, will relinquish her chief executive role on 1 February 2012 but remain a member of the Jetstar Asia board to guide continued growth, the airline said in a statement.

In the interim, Paul Daff, a founding senior executive of Jetstar Asia for three years and formerly head of its commercial segment, will take over as chief executive.

An executive search for a Singaporean chief executive "was well-advanced" and an announcement can be expected in early 2012, said Dennis Choo, chairman of Jetstar Asia.

Chong will be leaving to "pursue opportunities outside the aviation sector", added the airline.

Reports have been surfacing for weeks now that Chong will be joining Singapore investment group Temasek Holdings.

"Six years ago there were many who regarded Jetstar Asia as the underdog in a crowded marketplace," said Bruce Buchanan, Jetstar Group's chief executive.

"Ms Chong has been an important member of the Jetstar Group leadership team that has helped make Jetstar Asia a successful business in its own right and a key pillar in our broader pan-Asian strategy," he added.

Chong was the president and chief executive of The Singapore Mint before she took up the top post at the low-cost carrier. She was a surprise pick when first appointed as she had no previous airline experience and her predecessors were all men and Australian residents. She however became highly regarded for boosting the airline's network and bringing it to profitability and also presided over a series of changes at the airline including an ownership restructure and rationalisation of its branding. She also took on an expanded role when there was a management restructure in 2004, taking on responsibility to invest and develop the business in Asia beyond Singapore.

Jetstar Asia added that it would soon add three Airbus A330s to its fleet and on its Air Operators Certificate, to operate long-haul flights from Singapore.

"In 2012 and beyond, our focus will be on leveraging Jetstar's leadership position in stimulating new travel demand as well as strengthening links in our network between Singapore, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand," said Buchanan.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news