Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

LONDON — VIRGIN Atlantic said Tuesday that American Airlines executive Craig Kreeger would be its next CEO as the British carrier looks to make a success of its transatlantic joint venture with US partner Delta Air Lines.

Mr Kreeger, a senior vice-president at American Airlines’ customer business, will assume the role on February 1 and replaces Steve Ridgway, who will retire after 11 years in the top job.

Mr Kreeger joined AMR Corp’s American Airlines in 1985 as an analyst and spent six years in London heading its international operations. He also worked on American Airlines’ joint ventures with IAG’s British Airways and Iberia across the Atlantic, and its partnership with Japanese Airlines in the Pacific.

One of Mr Kreeger’s main tasks will be to help launch Virgin’s own partnership, announced last month, with US carrier Delta.

Delta agreed to buy a 49% stake in the British airline founded by entrepreneur Richard Branson from Singapore Airlines, creating a joint venture that would expand Delta’s access to London’s Heathrow Airport and increase competition in the lucrative transatlantic market.

"Craig is the right person to succeed Steve Ridgway at this dynamic and challenging time for our airline," said Mr Branson, the airline’s president. "We believe Craig has the experience and passion to drive Virgin Atlantic forward and capitalise on the opportunities created by our new venture with Delta Airlines."

Virgin’s partnership with Delta will provide more competition to the alliance between British Airways and American Airlines, which has 60% of the market between the US and London. Mr Kreeger’s other main job will be to make a success of Virgin’s new domestic short-haul service in partnership with Irish carrier Aer Lingus.

"An external appointment was going to be necessary if the airline were to take a different course," said Espirito Santo analyst Gerald Khoo. "Of course, the next question is what happens to the internal candidates who were passed over?"