Cathay chief in waiting game over bid to head airline lobby group

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 November, 2010, 12:00am

Tony Tyler, Cathay Pacific Airways chief executive, could hear as early as next month if he could become the next director general and chief executive of the global airline lobby group, the International Air Transport Association said.

Tyler (pictured) confirmed in an e-mail that there had been no decision yet, adding 'but I guess I'll learn something at the IATA board meeting in early December'.

He did not respond to a follow-up e-mail asking if he would be prepared to swap Hong Kong for Geneva, IATA's Swiss headquarters. The association represents about 230 passenger and cargo airlines which operate 93 per cent of the world's scheduled air traffic.

Insiders said Tyler was vying with Samer Majali, the chief executive of Gulf Air, for the airline industry's top job. IATA was unwilling to confirm how many candidates were in the running for the position.

One source said a replacement for current IATA director general and chief executive Giovanni Bisignani would have to be agreed by February for the new head to be confirmed at the June annual general meeting in Singapore.

Tyler is no stranger to IATA having been appointed chairman of IATA's board of governors in June last year at a time when the industry was reeling from the economic meltdown and facing environmental pressures.

At the time, he said: 'A toxic combination of low fares, a large drop in premium travel, and weak cargo loads is hitting the bottom line hard. IATA has some critical roles to play. It must protect the US$350 billion in industry cash flowing through its financial systems. It must also find even more efficiency gains - not just by airlines but throughout the industry value chain.'

Commenting about outside pressure on the industry's environmental performance, Tyler added: 'The industry is committed to achieving carbon-neutral growth by 2020, but to achieve this, we need to focus on bringing governments on board'.

Coincidentally, he took over from Majali, who was then chief executive of Royal Jordanian Airlines, for the year-long assignment as IATA chairman.

If Tyler moves from Cathay, where he has been chief executive since 2007, it would prompt a reshuffle of top management at the airline.

Observers said Tyler had a good grasp of the issues facing the airline industry after helping to navigate Cathay through several challenges since he joined the airline's board in 1996. These included the Asian financial crisis, health scares and the global financial crisis.

IATA spokesman Albert Tjoeng confirmed that Bisignani, appointed in 2002, would retire as director general and chief executive next year. 'The IATA board of governors has established a search committee to find the successor to Bisignani. The successor will be presented to the IATA annual general meeting in June 2011 for approval,' he said.