Etihad Aviation Group hired the former head of London’s Heathrow airport to lead a turnaround effort as the Persian Gulf carrier seeks to recover from failed bets on Alitalia SpA and Air Berlin Plc and soaring losses from its own operations.
Tony Douglas, currently in charge of procurement at Britain’s defense ministry, will join as chief executive officer in January, Etihad said Thursday. Prior to the U.K. government role, he ran Abu Dhabi airport, where the carrier is based, and before that led the sheikdom’s ports operator. He was earlier CEO at Heathrow, having previously headed up the Terminal 5 expansion project there.
Douglas succeeds James Hogan, the architect of the so-called Equity Alliance strategy that saw Etihad pour billions of euros into struggling airlines around the world in a bid to lure more passengers and join the global aviation elite. Hogan stood down from his duties in May after the plan failed to stem losses at the smaller carriers, with Alitalia filing for bankruptcy the same month and Air Berlin following suit with insolvency proceedings in August.
Etihad’s own business has been hurt as a comparatively low oil price of around $50 a barrel weighs on travel demand in the Middle East, pushing the region’s third biggest carrier to a $1.87 billion loss in 2016. Along with local rivals Emirates and Qatar Airways, Etihad has also been embroiled in a spat with U.S. competitors over whether it has benefited from illegal state aid, and has suffered as a result of American travel curbs links to concerns about terrorism.
Douglas understands the region and “is also deeply knowledgeable about commercial aviation and keenly familiar with Etihad’s challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing industry,” Mohamed Mubarak Fadel Al Mazrouei, the carrier’s chairman, said in a statement.
Between his roles at Heathrow, where he worked for nine years, and in Abu Dhabi, Douglas was chief operating officer at British builder Laing O’Rourke, leaving after the CEO post he’d been promised failed to materialise. At the MoD he led the procurement of new Type 26 and 31e warships.
Until Douglas joins, Etihad will continue to be helmed by Ray Gammell, who has been interim chief since Hogan left. Gammell will afterwards return to his role as the group’s chief people and performance officer.
In addition to Air Berlin and Alitalia, Etihad has investments in Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. and Jet Airways India. The company agreed in July to sell its stake in Swiss regional operator Darwin Airline to Slovenia’s Adria Airways.
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