Former JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes to Join Airbus

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Skift Take

The surprise appointment marks a speedy return to the aviation industry for the former JetBlue CEO.

Former JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes is joining Airbus as the company’s lead for North America.

Hayes is best known for serving as JetBlue CEO for nine years. He also held senior roles at British Airways. 

As Airbus Americas chairman and CEO, he will lead the manufacturer’s commercial aircraft business in the region. He will also have responsibility for coordination among the company’s helicopters, space and defense businesses.

Hayes takes over from Jeff Knittel on June 3 and will report to Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury.

“After some time off, I am excited and energized to join Airbus and build on the incredible success in the region. I have known Jeff and the Airbus team for well over a decade and I believe they have done a terrific job leading Airbus in the Americas. It is an honor for me to take up this opportunity to be part of the Airbus team,” Hayes said in a statement.

Knittel will remain with Airbus during a transition period.

“Robin’s vast aviation experience, depth of knowledge and industry relationships make him the right choice at the right time to lead the organization into the future in line with the company’s global ambition. I look forward to watching the team reach new heights under Robin’s leadership,” Knittel added.

North America is a critical region for Airbus. As well as major airline customers, it is also home to more than 10,000 employees across 50 sites.

The Airbus A220 has its main final assembly line in Mirabel, near Montreal. The company also produces the best-selling A320 at a facility in Alabama.

Hayes will need little introduction to the Airbus portfolio. JetBlue operates more than 200 of Airbus’ A220 and A320 family jets.

Highs and Lows for Hayes at JetBlue

Hayes had big ambitions for the New York-based carrier. He wanted to transform the low-cost airline into one that could compete with the ‘Big Four’ (American, Delta, United and Southwest).

His tenure saw mixed results as the airline launched the industry-disrupting Mint business class product and roll-out of transatlantic routes. But he also faced the loss of its merger with Spirit Airlines and the Northeast Alliance.

Hayes heavily championed the Spirit merger and Northeast Alliance as a means for JetBlue to achieve growth quickly. But a hawkish Department of Justice struck both down, citing anticompetitive concerns.

As well as navigating the airline through the worst of the Covid-19 crisis, he was also chair of IATA’s Board of Governors between 2020 and 2022.

However, in the post-pandemic period, JetBlue saw its revenues decline and operating costs soar during his last few months at the carrier.

Hayes previously said he would depart from the top post at JetBlue for health reasons.

Hayes’ JetBlue Compensation Disclosed

Hayes made around $10.8 million in total compensation in 2023, his highest take-home pay in the past two years, according to a proxy statement filed by JetBlue last month.

Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s former chief operating officer and president, took over in February, making her the first woman to lead a major U.S. airline. 

Under Geraghty, JetBlue is scrapping its underperforming routes and making significant overhauls to its leadership as it tries to restore its profitability.

Hayes’ Airbus appointment isn’t the only JetBlue-related surprise in recent months.

In February, it was announced that Marty St. George would become the carrier’s new president. St. George was a cornerstone of JetBlue’s leadership team until his exit in 2019, making him one of the airline’s longest-serving executives.

Watch Jeff Knittel, Chairman and CEO, Airbus Americas at the Skift Aviation Forum 2023:

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