February 3, 2016 / 9:53 PM / 2 years ago

Delta Air Lines CEO to retire; president named as successor

Delta planes line up at their gates while on the tarmac of Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah September 28, 2013.Lucas Jackson

(Reuters) - Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) on Wednesday said President Ed Bastian would replace Richard Anderson as chief executive in May, a long expected move that will see one of the most successful and outspoken leaders in the airline industry retire.

The Atlanta-based carrier said in a news release that Anderson will retire as CEO effective May 2 and become Delta's executive chairman. It said Glen Hauenstein, executive vice president of network planning and revenue management, will take over as president, among other promotions.

"Ed definitely has what it takes to keep Delta at the top of the industry," Sterne Agee CRT analyst Adam Hackel said.

Hackel said he was "not worried at all about the transition."

Anderson assumed Delta's top job in 2007, leading the company through a merger with Northwest Airlines in 2008 and turning Delta into the No. 1 airline globally by market value.

During Anderson's tenure, Delta outpaced its peers in on-time performance, grew rapidly in top business markets such as New York and acquired stakes in airlines in the United Kingdom, China, Mexico and Brazil.

Delta Chief Executive Richard Anderson attends an interview in New York May 22, 2013.Shannon Stapleton

"Sometimes being a contrarian is a good thing," Bastian said in a post on Delta's news website in November, indicating his interest in pursuing the unconventional strategies that Anderson seemed to espouse.

Delta split from Airlines for America last year, in part because it disagreed with the trade group's bid to semi-privatize governance of the U.S. air traffic control system. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill aimed at privatization on Wednesday.

Delta also surprised peers by purchasing a refinery in 2012, an audacious first for the airline industry, to manage its jet fuel costs. After months of losses, the refinery has since turned to profit and posted gains of more than $300 million in 2015.

At times, Anderson's comments have been seen as lightning rods in aviation.

Shares of Boeing Co (BA.N) fell after a contentious warning by Anderson in October about a surplus of used planes for sale, raising concern that the planemaker might have to cut the production rate of its widebody 777 jets. Boeing announced a rate cut for the 777 last week.

Anderson also took a stance opposite Boeing in the debate over whether Congress should reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank, saying it amounted to a subsidy of foreign airlines.

Delta's shares fell less than 1 percent in after-market trade.

Reporting by Sweta Singh in Bengaluru and Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Cynthia Osterman

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