Willie Walsh takes CarTrawler role after leaving BA owner IAG

Willie Walsh has joined the board of the Irish car hire technology firm CarTrawler – his first appointment since departing as the chief executive of British Airways’ owner, IAG.

The 58-year-old, one of the leading figures in global aviation in the past two decades, will be deputy chairman of the Dublin-based company.

The business-to-business CarTrawler provides the technology to connect airlines and travel firms with car booking, working for brands including easyJet, Emirates, Hotels.com and American Express. It was bought by the private equity firm TowerBrook Capital earlier this year and the new owner pledged to invest more than €100m (£91.2m) to drive its growth.

CarTrawler’s chairman, Patrick Kennedy, said Walsh would bring “a wealth of extensive global experience” in aviation that would “add significant value as the world recovers”.

The firm’s chief executive, Cormac Barry, said car rental was more relevant than ever because of Covid-19: “We are seeing demand for car rental recovering quicker than other modes of transport as consumers see the car as the safest way to travel.”

The firm’s platform gives airlines the opportunity to sell airport transfers and car hire, the kind of ancillary revenues that have played a significant role in maximising budget airlines’ profits.

The move for Walsh comes only weeks after he left IAG, having delayed his planned retirement from the start of 2020 because of the coronavirus crisis. He handed over to the Iberia boss, Luis Gallego, at IAG’s annual meeting in Madrid, where almost 30% of shareholders voted against or abstained on the remuneration report, which awarded Walsh an £833,000 annual bonus.

Walsh’s exit came alongside that of more than 10,000 British Airways staff, although the chief executive is one of the few to have planned his departure. Walsh’s final months involved overseeing a process of mass redundancies at the airline, a controversial process during which MPs brand BA a “national disgrace”.

However, Walsh said that the effects of the pandemic, which grounded planes for several months and has resulted in passenger numbers being at a small fraction of pre-Covid level, would last years and mean a different future, and that the industry needed to “embrace that reality”.

The CarTrawler appointment marks a return to Walsh’s native Dublin, where he started his aviation career as an Aer Lingus cadet pilot in 1979. He was appointed chief executive of the airline 22 years later, eventually becoming boss of BA and then IAG, the airline group he first established through the merger with Iberia in 2011.

CarTrawler refused to disclose how many days a month Walsh would work or his salary.

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