Ryanair COO Bellew to leave amid search for airline chief

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LONDON (July 11): Ryanair Holdings Plc chief operations officer Peter Bellew said he will leave at the end of the year, after helping to guide Europe’s biggest discount airline through crucial pay talks with unions.

While Bellew, 54, had been regarded as a candidate to become head of the main airline division, a newly-created position directly under Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary, he told Bloomberg his decision to go was unrelated to the appointment and that there was nothing at all personal behind it.

“Operations in great shape and a super team in place,” he said in a text message, adding that there are “lots of opportunities globally.”

Bellew spent a decade at Ryanair before exiting in 2014 and becoming CEO of Malaysia Airlines as it sought to recover from two fatal crashes. He returned to the Irish airline in 2017, and while the COO role included responsibility for flight operations and engineering, his chief task was to deal with fallout from a pilot rostering failure that caused 20,000 flight cancellations and sparked a unionization drive and the company’s first strikes.

After a fraught year of labour negotiations and disruption in 2018, operations at Ryanair have returned largely to normal this year, following a series of union agreements across Europe, with the threat of industrial action moving on to rival carrier British Airways, amid a pay dispute there.

Bernstein analyst Daniel Roeska said Bellew’s departure after not much more than 18 months is a “surprise move,” and suggested it might be linked to succession issues, the executive’s own ambitions or possibly Ryanair’s switch to a multi-brand structure, which could increase operational complexity.

Shares of Ryanair traded 2.2% lower at 9.86 euros as of 12:41 p.m. in Dublin, taking the decline this year to 8.3%.

Reuters reported earlier that Bellew was planning to leave, citing an internal memo from O’Leary.