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Evaluating a retiring pandemic CEO

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American Airlines planes taxi on the tarmac as the skyline of New York City is seen in the background from the JFK International Airport in New York, U.S., November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

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NEW YORK, Dec 7 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Doug Parker has had enough. The American Airlines (AAL.O) chief executive is stepping down and handing the controls to current President Robert Isom. After two decades guiding airlines through one crisis after another, he can hardly be blamed for bailing out. But he’s leaving American’s shareholders in the lurch.

Parker took over in 2013 as American merged with US Airways, where he was serving as CEO. He had already had a long aviation career, including piloting American West Airlines through the trauma of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Since he started at American, shares have significantly underperformed peers including Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and Southwest Airlines (LUV.N).

The past 22 months have arguably been even more grueling. American’s shares are down a third since last January, in line with rival Delta but lagging budget-focused Southwest. More worrying is the $24 billion of net debt now sitting in the hold. At some 7 times next year’s estimated EBITDA, according to Refinitiv, that’s going to take some paying off. Parker can presumably look forward to a comfortable retirement package. His shareholders have no such luxury. (By Lauren Silva Laughlin)

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Editing by Ed Cropley and Amanda Gomez

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