Etihad Airways has today announced the appointment of a new Group chief executive – Tony Douglas, the 54-year-old British executive will join the Abu Dhabi-based airline in January after being poached by the aviation group from his current role at the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD).
Douglas has been working at the MOD since 2015 in his position as chief executive for Defence Equipment and Support. The British government picked Douglas to rescue what has been described as a “botched” reform programme which saw 22,000 soldiers axed from the armed services.
His ability to succeed at the MOD was so well regarded that Douglas was brought in on a £530,000 annual pay package. It made him the best-paid government employee in the UK with a salary that was double the amount the Prime Minister earns. As Etihad goes through its own massive reform programme, airline bosses will be hoping Douglas is the man to make it happen.
The new chief executive doesn’t have any prior experience working at an airline but does come with years of experience in the aviation industry. Douglas previously worked for the British Airport Authority and led the construction of the huge Heathrow Terminal 5 project. He has also had plenty of experience working in the Middle East with senior positions in Abu Dhabi.
As chief executive at Abu Dhabi airport, Douglas managed the early stages of the Midfield terminal project – what will become Abu Dhabi’s brand new airport in the next few years. He has also led Abu Dhabi seaport as its chief executive in the past.
“We are delighted to have Tony return to Abu Dhabi to lead Etihad,” commented His Excellency Al Mazrouei, the chairman of Etihad Aviation Group. He continued: “He is also deeply knowledgeable about commercial aviation and keenly familiar with Etihad’s challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing industry.”
Douglas will be taking over from Ray Gammell, Etihad’s head of Human Resources who has been in the role of interim Group chief executive since May. Gammell took on the role when longtime CEO, James Hogan was unceremoniously ousted by Etihad’s leaders.
Hogan pioneered the failed bid to turn Etihad into the world’s fourth airline alliance, buying minority stakes in a number of underperforming airlines around the world. His strategy is credited with pushing Etihad into a $1.87 billion USD loss for 2016.
As Etihad looks to develop a new strategy, it has cut ties and funding with two of its failed investments – Alitalia, which is still trying to find a new investor and airberlin, which is likely to be sold in parts to Germany’s Lufthansa and Britain’s low-cost airline, easyJet.
Gammell has previously spoken of the challenges facing Etihad and the need for the airline to carry out a programme of cost reductions in order to better compete with competitors. A number of high-profile cutbacks have drawn ire from frequent flyers in the past year.
Etihad has said, Douglas will “expand and implement a range of strategic initiatives” – again, the airline has said this is in the context of an increasingly competitive aviation market.
“Etihad is a force in global aviation that must continue to adapt and evolve on its own and with industry partners,” explained Douglas after being announced as the new Group chief executive.
Explaining the importance of Etihad for Abu Dhabi’s economic future, Douglas continued: “It is an economic and employment engine for the UAE and the region. Etihad has a central role in supporting the UAE’s position as a global hub of transportation, tourism, commerce, and culture.”
How that strategy will be developed have not yet been announced.