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Asia-Pacific Commercial Aviation Year in Review

Major Asia-Pacific leadership shifts in 2019

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December 1st 2019

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Change at the top of the region’s airlines is a given and 2019 was no exception. Read More » Some appointments represented generational change. Some were the result of politics and others lost their jobs because of wrongdoing.

Resignations were suddenly submitted at Cathay Pacific Airways in August as the airline was progressing towards success in its three-year transformation program. Popular CEO, Rupert Hogg, and chief commercial officer, Paul Loo, abruptly resigned after Beijing made it clear it was unhappy with some of the airline’s staff participating in anti-government protests. The carrier also lost a pivotal leader of the airline group, chairman John Slosar, who stepped down on November 6.

Former HAECO boss, Augustus Tang, is Cathay Pacific’s new CEO. Ronald Lam, who only a few months earlier had been appointed CEO of the Swire Group’s newly acquired LCC, HK Express, replaced Loo as chief customer and commercial officer. Mandy Ng succeeded Lam as CEO of HK Express.

Managing director of Swire Coca-Cola Limited, a director of John Swire & Sons (H.K.) Ltd and a non-executive director of Swire Properties Ltd, Patrick Healy, (53) is the new chairman of the airline group.

“Being chairman of Cathay Pacific has been a singular honor for me and working together with all of you a singular pleasure. I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support, your dedication and your friendship. All of those have meant a great deal to me,” Slosar said in November in his final message as chairman.

At Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA), the change of CEO was not so civilized. Kevin McAllister, only appointed CEO at the manufacturer 18 months earlier, exited the company in October in what the company called “a separation”. In November, the top two BCA communications executives also left the company.

New BCA boss, Stan Deal, who was head of Boeing Global Services until the leadership change, has the enormous task of placating the families of passengers lost in the MAX Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes as well as airline customers, regulators and a public that has to be persuaded the 737 MAX is safe to fly.

At Air New Zealand, after a global executive search, Greg Foran, the former CEO of retail giant Walmart’s enormous North American business, was chosen to succeed Christopher Luxon as CEO of the carrier. He will start his new job next month. The airline’s chairman, Therese Walsh, said the airline was “thrilled to have attracted a world-class Kiwi back home”.

At Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines (CSA), the 54-year-old president of the carrier, Tan Wangeng, departed for aerospace manufacturer, COMAC, where he is tasked with adding marketing expertise to the aviation conglomerate.

He arrived at COMAC in late 2018, but as is common in China, the change went unreported for two months. His successor is Ma Xulun, until recently vice chairman of SkyTeam member, China Eastern Airlines (CEA). Before moving to CSA, Ma served for several years with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and Beijing-based Air China.

In Thailand, Captain Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth added the position of chief executive and vice chairman of Bangkok Airways to his existing responsibilities as president following the resignation of his father, 85-year-old Dr Prasert Prasartthong-Osoth, from the company. The change was announced after Dr Prasert was charged with manipulating the share register of the airline. Thailand’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) forced him to relinquish all involvement with the Bangkok Airways.

In late November, Garuda Indonesia boss, Ari Askhara, was accused of evading excise taxes on a Harley Davidson motor bike and a folding bike. He was alleged to have authorized the payment and then the transfer of the goods on a delivery flight from Toulouse of a new Garuda jet. Garuda Indonesia is a listed company. An extraordinary general meeting must be held to vote on a motion to dismiss Askhara.

In June, Philippine Airlines announced the surprise retirement of widely liked president and chief operating officer, Jaime Bautista. JJB, as he was known in the group, served as PAL president from 2004 to 2012. He returned to the airline in 2014 after Lucio Tan Snr. bought back the airline from San Miguel. The tobacco and brewer tycoon was increasing the presence of family members at senior levels at the flag carrier when tragedy struck in November.

Athletic Lucio “Bong” Tan Jnr, who recently had been handed oversight of PAL, died three days after he was injured playing basketball. In the same week, Cebu Pacific lost its founder, legendary businessman John Gokongwei, at age 93.

Credited with breaking up local business monopolies in the retail and property industries, he famously told his only son, Lance, to go run an airline after he launched Cebu Pacific in 1996 with four secondhand commuter airplanes. The LCC broke up the monopoly of Philippine Airlines and is now the biggest carrier in the Philippines.

The trailblazing career of India’s Jet Airway’s chairman, Naresh Goyal, came to a sudden halt in March when he and his wife were forced off the board of the airline he founded. A month later, floundering in an ocean of debt and unable to pay staff, the airline stopped flying.

In Australia, John Borghetti retired as CEO of Virgin Australia (VA) after nine years at the helm. He had led the carrier through its transformation from low-cost Virgin Blue to a full-service operator bent of competing with a dominant Qantas Airways. But the new VA did not produce profits for its shareholders, including Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways - and until the sale of its shareholding to Chinese investors - Air New Zealand.

Borghetti’s replacement is Paul Scurrah, most recently the chief executive of stevedore, DP World Australia. He has worked for Australian Airlines, the government-owned domestic carrier that merged with Qantas, Ansett Airlines and was a founding director of Australian regional airline, Regional Express (REX).

At the Qantas Group, the former CEO of the international unit, Alison Webster, abruptly left the airline in April. Her replacement is the group’s former chief financial Officer, Tino La Spino, who started in his new job in October.

As the year drew to a close, the convulsions of indebted HNA Group continued. In the months following the accidental death of the group’s co-founder, Wang Jian, in France in July, fellow co-founder, Chen Feng, appointed his son, Chen Xiaofeng, president of the group, pushing aside the group’s leadership team to make way for Chen Jnr.

Further north, weeks before his April 8 death in a California hospital aged 70, Y K Cho, was voted off the board of Korean Air. A few months later, Asiana Airlines chairman, Park Sam-koo, resigned from the airline’s board.

In December, EVA Air scion and former chairman of the carrier, Chang kuo-wei, moved closer to launching his revenge carrier, Starlux, with the granting of the carrier’s air operator’s certificate. The start-up’s first flight is planned for January 23.

And making history in Indonesia is Veranita Yosephine Sinaga, the former deputy CEO of Indonesia Air Asia who has succeeded Dendy Kurniawan as boss of the joint venture LCC. Before she joined the airline in mid-year, she was the sales director for multi-national consumer company, Kraft Heinz, Indonesia.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has a new boss of North Asia operations. Ma Tao was appointed regional vice president earlier in the year after Baojian Zhang, who was the founding head of IATA’s China operations and held the role for 24 years, retired. Ma has spent a third of his career representing China at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Before accepting the IATA post he was head of the Airworthiness Certification Centre of the Civil Aviation Administration of China.


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