Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway is to quit the airline next year after more than a decade at the helm of the UK operator.

In a statement the airline says Ridgway discussed his plans to step down with group chairman Sir Richard Branson earlier this year and he has now announced his intention to retire from the airline in the spring of 2013. Branson is now leading the search to find his successor.

Ridgway is one of Europe's longest-serving airline chief executives, having taking the helm of Virgin Atlantic in 2001. He initially joined the group as boss of its frequent flyer programme in 1989.

His departure comes at a crucial time for Virgin Atlantic. Having missed out on BMI to long-term rival British Airways, Virgin is embarking on its first short-haul flights to boost feeder traffic after announcing plans to begin services from Manchester to London Heathrow next year. At the tail-end of 2010, Virgin Atlantic hired Deutsche Bank to carry out a review to investigate a variety of strategic options, including alliances.

Virgin Atlantic posted a pre-tax operating loss of more than £80 million ($125 million) for the year ending February 2012, on revenues up 3% to £2.7 billion.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news