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Heathrow Boss to Quit After Airport’s Pandemic Performance Was Put Under The Spotlight

Heathrow Boss to Quit After Airport’s Pandemic Performance Was Put Under The Spotlight

a plane on the runway

John Holland-Kaye, the embattled boss of Heathrow Airport, has announced that he’ll quit as chief executive of the West London airfield by the end of 2023 after nine years leading the busiest airport in Europe.

Despite receiving praise from Heathrow’s board of directors on Thursday, Holland-Kaye has faced a barrage of criticism over the airport’s performance during the pandemic and, specifically, Heathrow’s apparent inability to cope with the surge in passengers that followed the easing of COVID travel restrictions.

Critics claim Holland-Kaye was too pessimistic about the aviation industry’s short and medium-term prospects and slashed too many jobs at the height of the pandemic. As a result, Heathrow struggled to keep up with demand when passengers tried to return to the skies.

The fallout of Heathrow’s resourcing woes culminated in a spectacular standoff with Dubai-based Emirates over a demand by the airport for airlines to slash passenger numbers last summer.

Emirates launched a tirade against Heathrow and its “cavalier” leadership who, the airline claimed, had caused travel chaos through their “incompetence and non-action”.

Initially, Emirates refused Heathrow’s request to cut capacity, although a compromise deal was eventually struck after Holland-Kaye got personally involved in negotiations.

In the following weeks and months, Heathrow attempted to change the narrative and claimed continuing capacity cuts were necessary only because airlines had failed to hire enough staff – something that the airport wasn’t responsible for.

Late last year, Willie Walsh, head of airline trade group the International Air Transport Association (IATA) stopped short of calling for Holland-Kaye’s resignation but said travellers shouldn’t have sympathy for him and that “heads should roll” if there were a repeat of the travel chaos during the Christmas period.

Christmas passed off without incident, and in accepting Holland-Kaye’s resignation, Heathrow’s board of directors ignored the airport’s recent history.

“John has been an extraordinary leader of Heathrow,” commented Lord Deighton, the airport’s Chair. “During the past nine years, he has worked tirelessly and collaboratively with shareholders, Ministers, airlines and other stakeholders to ensure the country can be proud of its ‘front door’,” Lord Deighton continued.

“The Board would like to put on record our gratitude to John for his dedication and commitment to Heathrow throughout his tenure as CEO.”

In a recent interview, Holland-Kaye defended his own performance and claimed that Heathrow’s success in reclaiming the crown as Europe’s busiest airport had not been an accident.

The veteran chief executive did not immediately say whether he had any other business plans in the pipeline.

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