Skift Take

The surprise appointment marks a speedy return to the aviation industry for the former JetBlue CEO.

Former JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes is joining Airbus as the company’s lead for North America.

Hayes is best known for serving as JetBlue CEO for nine years. He also held senior roles at British Airways. 

As Airbus Americas chairman and CEO, he will lead the manufacturer’s commercial aircraft business in the region. He will also have responsibility for coordination among the company’s helicopters, space and defense businesses.

Hayes takes over from Jeff Knittel starting June 3 and will report to Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury. Knittel, who has been CEO of Airbus’ North America unit for six years, said in a LinkedIn post on Monday that he plans to retire.

“After some time off, I am excited and energized to join Airbus and build on the incredible success in the region,” Hayes said in a statement. “I have known Jeff and the Airbus team for well over a decade and I believe they have done a terrific job leading Airbus in the Americas. It is an honor for me to take up this opportunity to be part of the Airbus team.”

Knittel will stay with Airbus through the leadership transition, he said in the LinkedIn post.

“Robin’s vast aviation experience, depth of knowledge and industry relationships make him the right choice at the right time to lead the organization into the future in line with the company’s global ambition. I look forward to watching the team reach new heights under Robin’s leadership,” Knittel said in a statement.

North America is a critical region for Airbus. As well as major airline customers, it is also home to more than 10,000 employees across 50 sites.

The Airbus A220 has its main final assembly line in Mirabel, near Montreal. The company also produces the best-selling A320 at a facility in Alabama.

Hayes will need little introduction to the Airbus portfolio. JetBlue operates more than 200 of Airbus’ A220 and A320 family jets.

A Tenure at JetBlue With Some Bright Spots, and Some Dull Ones

Hayes announced in January he would step down from the top post at JetBlue, saying he would focus on his health.

The former JetBlue CEO had big ambitions for the New York-based carrier. He wanted to transform the low-cost airline into one that could compete with the Big Four (American, Delta, United and Southwest).

His tenure saw mixed results as the airline launched the industry-disrupting Mint business class product and saw the roll-out of transatlantic routes to Europe. But under his leadership, the carrier also faced the loss of its merger with Spirit Airlines and the Northeast Alliance.

Hayes heavily championed the Spirit merger and Northeast Alliance as a means for JetBlue to achieve growth quickly to efficiently compete with the larger U.S. airlines. But a hawkish Department of Justice struck both down, citing anticompetitive concerns.

As well as navigating the airline through the thick of the pandemic, he was also chair of IATA’s Board of Governors between 2020 and 2022.

Since the pandemic, JetBlue struggled with declining revenues and rising operating costs as it experienced softer-than-expected travel demand. JetBlue has also been reeling since its failed Spirit merger as it figures out a path as a standalone airline.

Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s former chief operating officer and president, took over in February, becoming the first woman to lead a major U.S. airline. 

Under Geraghty, JetBlue has been scrapping its underperforming routes and making significant overhauls to its leadership as part of a strategy to restore its profitability.

Hayes Earned $10.8 Million During His Last Year at JetBlue

Hayes made around $10.8 million in total compensation in 2023, some of his highest pay during his tenure at JetBlue, according to a proxy statement JetBlue filed last month.

His pay included a $3 million bonus, the highest he’d ever earned as CEO of JetBlue. That bonus was part of an executive retention award that JetBlue’s executive compensation committee introduced in 2021 to encourage top executives to remain at the company through the pandemic.

Hayes’ Airbus appointment isn’t the only JetBlue-related surprise in recent months.

In February, the carrier announced Marty St. George would become the carrier’s new president. St. George was a cornerstone of JetBlue’s leadership team until his exit in 2019, making him one of the airline’s longest-serving executives at the time.

Watch Jeff Knittel, Chairman and CEO, Airbus Americas at the Skift Aviation Forum 2023:

Airlines Sector Stock Index Performance Year-to-Date

What am I looking at? The performance of airline sector stocks within the ST200. The index includes companies publicly traded across global markets including network carriers, low-cost carriers, and other related companies.

The Skift Travel 200 (ST200) combines the financial performance of nearly 200 travel companies worth more than a trillion dollars into a single number. See more airlines sector financial performance

Read the full methodology behind the Skift Travel 200.


Jet Stream Newsletter

Airline news moves fast. Don’t miss a beat with our weekly airline newsletter. Landing in your inbox every Saturday.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: airbus, airlines, british airways, jetblue, jetblue airways, leadership, robin hayes, spirit

Photo credit: Airbus Airbus

Up Next

Loading next stories