Air Canada CEO to retire in February as pandemic roils industry

(Reuters) - Air Canada's AC.TO president and chief executive, Calin Rovinescu, will retire next February after 11 years in the top job, the company said on Friday, as the carrier grapples with historic turmoil in the airline industry triggered by the coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: Calin Rovinescu, CEO of Air Canada speaks during a panel discussion on Cyber Security at the 2016 International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit in Dublin, Ireland June 3, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Deputy CEO and Chief Financial Officer Michael Rousseau will succeed Rovinescu upon his retirement, the airline said.

Peter Letko, a co-founder of investment manager Letko Brosseau, the carrier’s largest shareholder, said he has “every confidence” in Rousseau’s leadership.

“He has played an important role complementing Calin every step of the way,” Letko told Reuters by email.

Letko Brosseau owns an 8.69% stake in Air Canada according to Refinitiv data.

While the announcement was not widely expected, it was “well-telegraphed” that Rousseau would eventually be named the successor after he was appointed deputy CEO in 2018, RBC analyst Walter Spracklin said in a note.

Like carriers around the world, Canada’s largest airline has been slammed by strict travel restrictions and slumping passenger traffic during the pandemic, although the airline has raised around C$6 billion ($4.55 billion) of incremental liquidity.

Rovinescu weathered earlier crises at Air Canada, and was an executive in charge of the airline’s restructuring after it faced bankruptcy in 2003. Investors credited him with strengthening the balance sheet in recent years.

“In short, he turned Air Canada into a winner,” Letko said.

Rovinescu has been an outspoken advocate to secure aid from the Canadian government for the country’s airline industry, although no specific package has been announced. He has also pushed the government to ease travel restrictions that have hobbled the carrier’s international traffic.

Rovinescu led the company through a deal to acquire Canadian leisure group Transat A.T., which is still pending approval from regulators.

Air Canada shares were up 1 cent at C$15.53 on Friday afternoon in Toronto.

Reporting by Shreyasee Raj in Bengaluru and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by David Gregorio and Matthew Lewis