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TravelFormer JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes to lead Airbus in North America

Former JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes to lead Airbus in North America

Call it a comeback, perhaps.

Former JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, who retired from the airline in February, will take over as chairman and CEO of Airbus Americas, the European plane-maker’s American region operation.

Hayes’ appointment comes as Airbus Americas’ current chairman and CEO, C. Jeffrey Knittel, announces his retirement. The moves take effect June 3, Airbus said in a press release.

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When Hayes first announced his planned retirement from JetBlue in January, he cited health reasons in a statement.

“[T]he extraordinary challenges and pressure of this job have taken their toll, and on the advice of my doctor and after talking to my wife, it’s time I put more focus on my health and well-being,” Hayes said at the time.

However, in a statement on Monday, Hayes suggested that his health had improved over the three months since that announcement.

“After some time off, I am excited and energized to join Airbus and build on the incredible success in the region,” Hayes said. “It is an honor for me to take up this opportunity to be part of the Airbus team.

“Airbus’ commitment to safety and decarbonization is incredibly important to me personally, and I am both motivated by and committed to contributing to the Airbus purpose to pioneer sustainable aerospace,” Hayes added.

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Hayes spent nearly 16 years at JetBlue, including nine as CEO. Before that, he held a variety of roles for over 19 years at British Airways, including executive vice president overseeing the airline’s presence in the U.S. He also served as the chair of the International Air Transport Association, the primary industry trade group, from 2020 to 2022.

An Airbus A321 being assembled at Airbus’ Mobile, Alabama, plant in 2022. TAD DENSON/AIRBUS

At Airbus, Hayes will oversee the plane-maker’s commercial business in North America, which includes 10,000 employees spread across 50 sites, Airbus said, including its sprawling Mobile, Alabama, assembly plant.

During his time at JetBlue, through stints as chief commercial officer, president and, eventually, chief executive, Hayes led the charge to expand and grow the airline beyond a small, quirky boutique carrier. He led the development and expansion of the airline’s Mint business-class product, along with the airline’s first routes to Europe.

Hayes also spearheaded efforts to grow the airline through partnerships and acquisitions, most of which ultimately failed and, some have argued, distracted the airline from its core business.

Under Hayes, JetBlue tried to buy Virgin America in 2016 but was eventually outbid by Alaska Airlines.

In 2020, JetBlue and American Airlines announced the Northeast Alliance, a close codeshare and frequent flyer partnership that came to define the airlines’ respective domestic networks over the next two years. The partnership was challenged by the Department of Justice under the Biden administration and dismantled in 2023 after a judge ruled that it was anti-competitive.

Most recently, JetBlue’s planned acquisition of Spirit Airlines was blocked by a federal judge earlier this year — days after Hayes announced his plans to step down — following a similar antitrust trial. The dissolution of that merger has left JetBlue scrambling to pivot its strategy and Spirit to try and reverse its ill fortunes. The budget airline has struggled to return to profitability since before the coronavirus pandemic.

At Airbus, Hayes will report to Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury.

“I am delighted to welcome Robin to Airbus,” Faury said in a statement. “Together with the leadership team we’re looking forward to having Robin and his vast industry experience onboard to further deliver on our strategic objectives for the region across all the Airbus businesses and further grow our North American footprint.”

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