Ryanair's appointment of chief people officer Eddie Wilson as the mainline carrier's new chief executive marks a departure from the usual pipeline of airline leaders.
FlightGlobal's recent survey of the top 100 airlines and groups showed that none of the incumbent chief executives had stepped into the position from a chief people officer role or equivalent.
The most common roles held by airline leaders immediately before taking up the position were chief executive at another airline or business (25), president or deputy chief executive (20), and chief operating officer (14).
Indeed, after the February announcement that Ryanair was seeking a new mainline chief executive, there was speculation that the carrier's chief operating officer Peter Bellew – the former head of Malaysia Airlines – was a strong candidate. It has since been announced that Bellew will be taking the vacant chief operating officer role at EasyJet.
Wilson's suitability for the role would undoubtedly have been boosted by the fact that as chief people officer, he has been close to one of Ryanair’s biggest challenges in recent months: its recognising of unions.
His appointment does, however, continue the trend for airlines to appoint internal candidates. Some 79 of the 100 chief executives in FlightGlobal’s survey came from the same airline or group.
Wilson also continues the trend for airlines to appoint male chief executives, despite O'Leary stating at the A4E Summit in Brussels on 6 March that "if I had a choice, I'd have a female, just because that would be a very significant break with the past in Ryanair".
O'Leary added in Brussels that he thought the new chief executive was "likely to be an internal candidate, because they understand the business".
Wilson will step into the role on 1 September, as O'Leary moves into the group chief executive position.
Plans for O'Leary to take the group role were announced in February when the airline unveiled a structure similar to that of British Airways and Iberia parent IAG. At the same time, O’Leary committed to spend another five years at Ryanair.
"We believe this group structure will deliver cost and operating efficiencies, while enabling the group to look at other small-scale merger and acquisition opportunities," Ryanair said at the time.
Wilson will report into O'Leary, along with the chief executives of Buzz, Lauda and Malta Air.