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IATA AGM: A year of change at the top

It has been a torrid year for the airline sector, underlining structural changes taking place across many parts of the industry. But there has also been change of a different sort. While familiar faces continue to lead most of the top-tier players, in other parts of the sector there has been a pretty sizeable movement in the executives tasked with steering airlines out of troubled waters. It means many new faces or new roles in Berlin since IATA met for its last AGM in Kuala Lumpur 12 months ago.

Former Jet Airways chief executive Wolfgang Prock-Schauer took charge at UK carrier bmi in December after Lufthansa took control of its Star Alliance partner. Unveiling his vision for the carrier in April this year he stressed the company was here to stay. "There is a new beginning now, and we're getting a lot of support [from Lufthansa] for this restructuring," he says.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the structural changes, consolidation activity and deep economic impact seen in Europe, airlines in this region have been more affected than most. Eight out of the top 20 European airlines by revenue in the 2009 Airline Business rankings either changed, or announced plans to change, chief executive in 2009. While these covered a variety of reasons, the crisis facing the sector certainly played a part in this relatively high turnover.

Among the changes at airlines since the last IATA AGM , Antonio Vazquez replaced Fernando Conte at Iberia; telecoms executive Mika Vehvilainen took over the reins from Jukka Heinonen at Finnair; former TUI airline head Christoph Mueller replaced Dermot Mannion at Aer Lingus; and former Jet Airways executive Wolfgang Prock-Schauer has taken the helm at Star Alliance carrier bmi.

In the European low-cost segment, easyJet's Andy Harrison steps down this month to be replaced by publishing executive Carolyn McCall.

In Asia, chief financial officer Azmil Zahruddin stepped up last September to replace Idris Jala as chief executive of Malaysia Airlines when the latter took up a cabinet position in the Malaysian government.

Other changes in the region have seen former Thai energy minister Piyasvasti Amranand embarking on turnaround plans for Star Alliance member Thai Airways. Meanwhile, Tokyo turned to a veteran industrialist, but aviation newcomer, in Kazuo Inamori as chairman to lead troubled Japan Airlines through its restructuring.

Siza Mzimela, SAA

There is a new face leading South African Airways. Siza Mzimela, formerly boss at SAA regional partner South African Express, took over as chief executive in March after a difficult few years for the Star Alliance carrier. "Hopefully going forward there will be a lot more stability in SAA. We are done with the restructurings. The next step is to stabilise. The second is to grow. We are going to be growing," she says.

In Australia former Qantas executive John Borghetti last month took over as chief executive and managing director of Virgin Blue. Borghetti, who served as executive executive general manager at Qantas for six years until May 2008, succeeded Brett Godfrey at Virgin Blue who retired last month.

In other regions, Gulf Air appointed a former IATA chairman, Samer Majali, in its latest attempts to redefine its role in the changed Middle East market. The former Royal Jordanian chief executive has already begun implementing a new strategy, seeking to bolster its services to regional points in the Gulf. The airline has also just appointed Maher Salman Al Musallam, after a 35-year career in the Royal Bahraini Air Force, as deputy chief executive.

Majali himself was succeeded at Royal Jordanian by Hussein Dabbas. Another change in the region has seen Hussein Massoud become Egyptair group chairman and president.

In Brazil, Marco Antonio Bologna, who served as TAM chief executive between 2003 and 2007, is returning to the company to head up a newly established holding company. Libano Barroso, who was appointed TAM's chief executive last year, will continue be in charge of all the company's airline subsidiaries.

Larry Kellner & Jeff Smisek Richard J. Carson
© Richard J. Carson

It was already a big year for Continental president Jeff Smisek as he took over from Larry Kellner as chief executive in January. Now just months later the job is even bigger after the deal to merge Continental and United Airlines. Smisek will be chief executive of the new airline, with United's Glenn Tilton serving as non-executive chairman for the first two years.

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