Fyfe speculation for Virgin job

ROELAND VAN DEN BERGH
Last updated 13:08 11/09/2012

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Air New Zealand's out-going boss, Rob Fyfe, is tipped as one of the leading contenders to take over the top job at British-based airline Virgin Atlantic.

Fyfe will hand over the reins at Air New Zealand to the current head of the airline's long-haul operations, Christopher Luxon, on January 1.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway announced overnight that he would leave in the northern hemisphere spring, about six months away.

Fyfe was first linked to a possible move to Virgin Atlantic just prior to announcing his resignation from the job he has held for seven years in February.

Virgin Atlantic is owned by flamboyant British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, who also owns a quarter of Australia's second biggest airline Virgin Australia.

Air New Zealand has close connections with the Virgin airlines. On the Tasman, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia fly as one in an alliance.

Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic carry each others' passengers on some routes to London, and the two share similar business class seats and company cultures.

Virgin Atlantic said in a statement that Ridgway had begun discussions with Sir Richard early this year.

Branson also met Fyfe late last year as part of a promotional visit, which included a race in an amphibious boat off Auckland's Takapuna Beach.

However, Fyfe has consistently said he was not interested in another airline role.

"If I wanted to stay in the industry I would stay with Air New Zealand; I absolutely love it," Fyfe said in June, the day after airline chiefs from around the world threw a farewell party for him in Beijing.

"Ethically, philosophically, I could never have all this passion for Air New Zealand and then wake up one day and say, 'Right, now I'm going to have all this passion for Qantas, or anyone else'."

Fyfe is highly regarded in airline circles. He currently sits on the International Air Transport Association board of governors and is chairman of the world's largest airline grouping, StarAlliance.

Chairman of Australia's CAPA Centre for Aviation, Peter Harbison, said earlier this year that executives of Fyfe's calibre were "few and far between" and he would always be in demand in the industry.

The relatively low pay for airline bosses, however, was seen as a potential turn-off for Fyfe remaining in the industry.

Fyfe has maintained that he was more interested in an entrepreneurial challenge with a high-growth early-stage company rather than another big corporate role to improve on his $1.79 million total pay packet at Air New Zealand.

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If he was interested in the Virgin Atlantic job he would probably be up against the airline's highly regarded chief commercial officer, Julie Southern.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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