WestJet Airlines Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Gregg Saretsky resigned unexpectedly as the Canadian carrier grapples with testy labor negotiations while attempting to create a new discount operation.

He will be replaced by Ed Sims, who joined the company about nine months ago.

“Having found his successor,” Saretsky, 58, agreed to retire effective immediately, Calgary-based WestJet said in a statement Thursday. Sims joined the company as executive vice president in May after a career of more than 30 years in the tourism and aviation industries. Most recently, he was CEO of Airways, New Zealand’s air-navigation service provider.

Sims steps in as WestJet is attempting to start the Swoop ultra-low-cost unit this year and to expand international long-distance service with the planned deployment of Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner wide-body jets. The carrier is mired in tough labor negotiations with its pilots, who are seeking to sign their first bargaining agreement -– a development that may cut into WestJet’s cost advantage over larger rival Air Canada.

WestJet’s shares have gained just 4.4 percent over the past five years, well behind the 72 percent advance of Air Canada and the 21 percent increase for the S&P/TSX Composite Index.

“Gregg has taken WestJet to new heights during his tenure, and the airline would not be in the strong position it is without Gregg’s business knowledge, drive and work ethic, and his focus on low costs,’’ Chairman Clive Beddoe said in the statement. “We sincerely thank Gregg for all of his contributions.’’

Saretsky joined WestJet in June 2009 as vice-president of WestJet Vacations. He became CEO in 2010, and presided over a period during which the carrier’s fleet almost doubled in size. WestJet started service to Europe, began flying wide-body aircraft and created the Encore short-haul unit during his tenure as CEO.

This article was written by Frederic Tomesco from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Tags: execs, westjet
Photo Credit: Following the abrupt departure of CEO Gregg Saretsky, the low-cost carrier will be led by executive Ed Sims. WestJet