Heathrow’s chief executive has announced his resignation after a difficult year for Britain’s biggest airport. John Holland-Kaye will step down from his £1.5m role at some point in 2023 after nine years in charge.
His tenure included the long battle to win the right to expand, with the third track still officially back on the table after court battles and lukewarm government approval.
The airport suffered billions in losses during the Covid pandemic and experienced a rocky recovery, briefly losing its place as Europe’s busiest airport and coming under heavy criticism from its major airline customers for imposing a cap on passengers during the peak summer season.
Heathrow chairman Paul Deighton said Holland-Kaye had been “an extraordinary leader of Heathrow”, adding: “Over 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 gateway.
Holland Kaye took over in 2014promoted to Director of Development when he oversaw the construction of Terminal 2. He has been credited with improving customer satisfaction, while his idiosyncratic leadership has notably made the “mojo” workforce one of the airport’s four official strategic priorities.
A fluid public operator, it won government backing for the construction of a third runway, despite widespread opposition from environmental groups. However, a new government, court reviews, declining passenger numbers during the pandemic and concerns over investment levels stalled the project.
Heathrow still hopes to increase its capacity by around 50% by building the runway, which suggests more than 240,000 additional flights a year over London. Speaking at an aviation conference earlier this week, Holland-Kaye said more details of renewed plans for the controversial plane would be released later this year.
Meanwhile, relations with some major airlines soured in a blame game for the turbulent summer of 2022 as passenger demand for international travel soared after the pandemic. Emirates criticized Holland-Kaye and initially refused to comply with Heathrow’s capacity limits this summer, amid disputes over who was responsible for the staff shortages that caused cancellations and delays in 2022.
Holland-Kaye will also step down after a bitter row over landing fees, with old haters such as Iata boss Willie Walsh – former CEO of British Airways owner IAG – accusing him of ‘abusing’ airlines. A final decision on the level of charges will be confirmed by the regulator, the UK CAA, in March.
Heathrow’s board began looking for his successor. The main internal candidates are Emma Gilthorpe, director of operations, who was previously a director overseeing strategy and planning, including airport expansion. Financial director Javier Echafe is also a potential candidate, with Madrid-based Ferrovial remaining the single largest shareholder.
Holland-Kaye will stay on to ensure a smooth transfer later in 2023.