John Holland-Kay, boss of London Heathrow Airport, has announced he will step down as chief executive by the end of 2023 after nine years at the helm of Europe’s busiest airport.
Despite praise from the Heathrow Board of Directors last Thursday, Holland Cay has faced a flurry of criticism over the airport’s performance during the pandemic and, in particular, Heathrow’s apparent inability to cope with the influx of passengers after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and the reopening of borders.
Critics say Holland Cay has been too pessimistic about the short-to-medium term for the aviation industry and has cut too many jobs amid the pandemic. As a result, Heathrow all but failed as tens of thousands of passengers attempted to return to the skies.
Heathrow’s human resource problems culminated in its spectacular showdown with Emirates when the airport tried to force airlines to cut passenger numbers last summer.
Emirates has launched a tirade against Heathrow and its “cavalier” management, who the airline claims caused schedule chaos with their “incompetence and inaction”.
Emirates initially rejected Heathrow’s request to reduce passenger traffic, although a compromise was eventually reached. True, for this, Holland-Kay himself had to join the negotiations.
In the weeks and months that followed, Heathrow attempted to “rewrite history” by claiming the lingering traffic cuts were the result of the airlines’ inability to hire enough staff. And for this, of course, the airport is not responsible.
Late last year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) leadership refrained from calling for Holland Cay’s resignation, while noting that travelers should not feel sympathy for him and that “heads should roll” if the chaos in travel repeats during the Christmas period.
Christmas passed without incident, and in accepting Holland Cay’s resignation, the Heathrow Board of Directors ignored the airport’s recent history.
“John was an outstanding manager at Heathrow. For the past nine years, he has worked tirelessly in collaboration with shareholders, ministers, airlines, and other stakeholders to make the country proud of its “front door”.
“The Board would like to formally express our gratitude to John for his dedication to Heathrow throughout his tenure as CEO.”
Holland Cay itself has repeatedly defended its contribution to the common cause, arguing that Heathrow’s success in regaining the crown of Europe’s busiest airport is not accidental.
What the former executive director will do after his resignation is not reported.