A search has started to replace Willie Walsh as chief executive of Aer Lingus owner IAG as he prepares to retire within the next two years, the pilot-turned-executive said yesterday.
"I have indicated that I'm clearly getting closer to retirement. The board has been working for some time, as you would expect, on succession planning," Willie Walsh told investors at IAG's annual capital markets day.
He plans to retire before his 60th birthday on October 25, 2021, he said.
"I still love what I do, but my intention is to be retired within the next two years."
Earlier, IAG scaled back its forecast for three-year capacity growth in the face of a weak global economy and a highly competitive marketplace.
The group will look to protect margins, Mr Walsh said.
"We're well-prepared for anything that comes at us. We've seen a softening economic environment, and therefore we're adjusting our growth plans," he told analysts during the capital markets briefing.
The airline industry has struggled to maintain margins in the face of industry over- capacity and a muted economic outlook, which has produced fierce competition over ticket prices.
Germany's Lufthansa has said slower capacity growth at rivals was providing relief, with Ryanair set to grow at its slowest rate in seven years in the year to March 31, 2021.
"We still see growth, but we're moderating our growth. Even in that environment we will be generating very significant amounts of cash to be able to ensure that our shareholders get rewarded for their faith," Walsh added.
IAG, which has cut its outlook for capacity growth in 2019 as the year has progressed, estimated available seat-kilometres will grow by 3.4pc a year between 2020 and 2022. It had previously forecast 6pc annual growth for 2019-2023.
The owner of BA, Iberia and Vueling as well as Aer Lingus, it said the capacity growth cut would lower its forecast for earnings per share growth to 10pc a year from 12pc. But it reiterated its targets for operating profit margins and return on invested capital, and shares recovered from a steep early fall to trade 0.2pc lower.
IAG has also taken a hit from pilot strikes at BA, which knocked its profit outlook, but it said the forecasts for capacity growth were not adjusted for these.