1. ITV Report

Steve Ridgway to leave role after 20 years at Virgin

Steve Ridgway who is leaving Virgin Atlantic, with airline's owner, Sir Richard Branson in Las Vegas in 2010 Photo: Robin Britton/ITV Meridian

The boss of Crawley based Virgin Atlantic is to to leave the airline after more than a decade at the helm, it has just been revealed.

Steve Ridgway, who lives in Hampshire, says he will stay until “at least” the end of Virgin Atlantic’s financial year in February, as the group hunts for a successor. He is a close friend of Virgin Atlantic Chairman and the airline's founder, Sir Richard Branson.

Virgin Atlantic has struggled in recent years, with rising fuel costs and increased competition from rivals. It recently reported losses of £80m.

Sir Richard Branson said that Mr Ridgway would continue at the company in some form and would lead the search for his successor.

Virgin said there were “no firm plans” as to what Mr Ridgway’s future role might be.

The airline was hit on its key North Atlantic route after British Airways and American Airlines formed a joint venture which allowed the rival airlines to co-ordinate fares and schedules.

Virgin has just announced plans to compete on the UK short-haul market with flights between Heathrow and Manchester starting in March. The move came after Virgin lost transfer traffic following British Airways purchase of BMI from the German airline Lufthansa in April, which ended Virgin’s code sharing arrangement with BMI. Mr Ridgway had also been leading negotiations to take over BMI’s former routes between Edinburgh, Aberdeen and London.

Mr Ridgway, who joined Virgin in 1989, said: “My time with Virgin Atlantic has been nothing short of an adventure. I’ve seen many great times and a few bad, and have always remained firm that we must offer something different to that of our competitors.”

“Steve’s industry knowledge and business acumen has ensured Virgin Atlantic remains a consumer favourite, he will be very much involved with the airline into next year and will doubtlessly be involved in other Virgin projects as we value his skills so highly.”

– Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Atlantic Airways

The most likely internal candidate for the top job is Virgin Atlantic's Chief Commercial Officer, Julie Southern, who joined the airline in 2010. She has responsibility for commercial strategy, fleet and network development, sales and marketing. She also oversees human resources at the company.

Julie Southern, who is tipped by some as a potential new boss at Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline Credit: Robin Britton/ITV Meridian