Willie Walsh To Take Over As IATA’s Eighth Director General

IAG’s Willie Walsh is to replace Alexandre de Juniac as the Director General of The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 2021. Mr de Juniac had previously flagged his intention to step down from the role. Now, IATA has confirmed it will recommend Willie Walsh as his replacement at the 76th IATA Annual General Meeting to be held on Tuesday, November 24.

Ex-IAG boss, Willie Walsh, will become the next IATA Director-General. Photo: Miami Dade Aviation Department

“I am convinced that Willie will be a great Director-General for IATA,” said Carsten Spohr, Chair of the IATA Board of Governors and CEO of Lufthansa.

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Willie Walsh stepping into the hot seat at IATA

IATA represents some 290 airlines comprising 82% of global air traffic. The trade organization promotes airline activity and plays a significant role in establishing global policies and standards. IATA says its mission is to represent, serve, and lead the airline industry.

In which case, Willie Walsh will have his work cut out for him. It’s no secret that the airline industry has been devastated this year. IATA has been vocal in promoting the re-opening of borders, vaccines, and travel corridors in its efforts to get planes back in the air.

To date, the success of these efforts has been limited. Willie Walsh will step into the top job at IATA when the airline industry is on the wane. The long time airline executive retired from his role as CEO of IAG in September. British Airways, Vueling, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and Level all operate under the IAG umbrella.

Willie Walsh in his IAG days. Photo: Getty Images

An airline executive with over 40 years of experience

Mr Walsh won praise during his career for turning around Aer Lingus when he was CEO there. He then went to British Airways, an airline hampered by a high-cost base and operational inefficiencies. Willie Walsh promptly went to work on those issues.

A significant coup in Willie Walsh’s career was securing United States and European regulatory approval for British Airways to work with American Airlines in a joint venture on transatlantic routes. This helped level up the transatlantic competitive environment. By pulling off this deal, Mr Walsh achieved what earlier British Airways CEO’s had failed to do.

Willie Walsh went over to run IAG in 2011 following the merger of British Airways and Iberia. He helped turn around Iberia. Until then, cost inefficiencies and a poor service reputation had long hampered Iberia.

It is estimated that airlines will lose US$80 billion this year. As the new IATA Director-General, Willie Walsh will have to deal with a financially crippled industry that’s radically downsized.

“We have restructured IATA to survive the crisis and be ready to support the industry recovery with an organization dimensioned to serve a smaller industry,” said Alexandre de Juniac in a statement on Monday.

Outgoing IATA Director-General Alexandre de Juniac. Photo: IATA

Alexandre de Juniac leaves IATA set up to succeed

An outgoing Mr de Juniac set an upbeat tone in his comments yesterday. He said both the airline industry and IATA had to drop old operating models this year and restructure to survive. But he thinks they’ll pull through.

“The building blocks for an industry recovery are in place,” said Mr de Juniac.

“IATA has strategically increased its relevance as the voice of the global airline industry. IATA has set the course to restore air connectivity amid the pandemic with systematic pre-departure testing. We are well into preparations to fulfill critical vaccine distribution needs.

“And now is the right time to hand over IATA’s leadership for the long process of recovery.”

Willie Walsh will takeover from Alexandre de Juniac as Director-General of IATA on March 31, 2021.