American Airlines CEO Doug Parker is stepping down after 8 years at the helm and will be replaced by the carrier’s president, Robert Isom, on March 31, the company announced Tuesday.
Parker is the second major airline CEO this year to announce his retirement, marking a changing of the guard among U.S. carriers. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly will step down in February, handing the reins to another long-time executive, Bob Jordan, in February.
Parker will continue as chairman of American’s board.
“It likely would have happened sooner, but the global pandemic — and the devastating impact it had on our industry — delayed those plans,” Doug Parker said in a note to staff on Tuesday.
Parker first became CEO of America West shortly before before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and later oversaw two mergers — with US Airways and American Airlines, the tail-end of a wave of consolidation among U.S. carriers that propelled American to become the largest U.S. carrier.
Isom will become CEO of an airline that is still losing money as it tries to rebuild a business that collapsed during the pandemic. In the first three quarters of 2021, American has lost almost $4.8 billion after losing $9.5 billion last year when Covid forced countries around the world to ban flights and millions of would be travelers avoided taking flights.
“Over the last several years, our airline and our industry have gone through a period of transformative change. And with change comes opportunity,” Isom said In a news release announcing the leadership change.
For Parker and Isom, the transition is the latest move in two careers that have been connected for more than 20 years, stretching back to their days at America West in the mid 90’s.
On September 1, 2001 Parker became CEO of America West just 10 days before the Sept. 11 attacks plunged the airline industry into a crisis. While many carriers struggled to rebound, Parker saw the challenging environment as the right opportunity for consolidation. In 2005, Parker oversaw the merger of America West with a bankrupt U.S. Airways, creating the fifth-largest carrier in the country. Parker ran the new U.S. Airways as CEO.
Following the Great Recession that ended in 2009, airlines that were saddled with massive debts and high legacy costs spurred a series of bankruptcies and another round of mergers. Once again, Parker saw a rare opportunity to create a larger airline with the size and scale he could never achieve at U.S. Airways.
This time, the target was American which had tumbled into bankruptcy in 2011. Parker engineered a merger between U.S. Airways and a bankrupt American, creating the largest airline in the world when American emerged from chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2013. Once again Parker was CEO while Isom oversaw the integration of the two carriers as chief operating officer.
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