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United finance chief makes sudden exit

United Airlines chief financial officer Andrew Levy has left the carrier, in a move that some see as a reflection of the carrier's management.

Levy's departure is sudden and comes in the midst of a multi-year growth strategy aimed at recapturing what United president Scott Kirby calls the Chicago-based carrier's "natural share" of the US domestic market.

"As satisfying as this job has been, I am considering several exciting opportunities and will choose one in the coming weeks," says Levy in a post on his LinkedIn page. "I want to express my appreciation to every member of my team and am gratified to leave the organisation in solid financial standing.”

Henry Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst at the Atmosphere Research Group, calls the move a "vote of no confidence" in Kirby's strategy, adding that it is almost unheard of for a disciplined executive like Levy to leave suddenly with no immediately apparent job prospect.

However, PlaneBusiness Banter founder Holly Hegeman believes the move is related to the lack of growth prospects for Levy at United where he is second in line for the chief executive seat behind Kirby.

Gerry Laderman, senior vice-president of finance, procurement and treasurer of United, has taken over as acting CFO until the airline finds a permanent replacement for Levy.

"I personally want to thank Andrew for his contributions to United," says Oscar Munoz, chief executive of United. "He leaves the company in a stronger financial position and with a clear strategy and framework in place."

Levy, who joined United in August 2016 shortly ahead of Kirby, focused on supporting its growth plans through prudent capital management and opportune aircraft deals, including buying aircraft off lease and on the used market.

United bought 23 aircraft off lease, including two Boeing 737-700s and three Boeing 777-200s, acquired three used Boeing 767-300ERs from Hawaiian Airlines, and reached a deal for 20 used mid-life Airbus A319s due in 2020 and 2021 during the first quarter.

Long-term debt and capital lease obligations, net current maturities, have increased nearly a quarter to $13.2 billion at the end of the first quarter compared to June 2016, just before Levy joined the carrier.

However, liquidity at United increased 7.3% to $6.48 billion over the same period.

Before joining United in 2016, Levy was president and chief operating officer at Allegiant Air. He left the ultra low-cost carrier in 2014 after 13 years with the airline.

Updated with comment from Andrew Levy

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