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Qantas CEO to step down early as airline's standing under scrutiny

September 6, 2023: Australia’s Qantas Airways stated that its long-serving CEO would bring forward his retirement between a publicity firestorm over an indictment of illegal ticket sales, which shows what the flagship carrier hopes is the end of a tumultuous period.

Alan Joyce, the group’s boss for 15 years, had been scheduled to retire in November but said that he was leaving two months early due to “the focus on Qantas and events of the past” in the previous few weeks, without exaggerating.

Five days earlier, Australia’s consumer watchdog sued Qantas, alleging it sold tickets to some 8,000 flights in mid-2022 after they were canceled, violating the country’s consumer law. Qantas had issued two apologies, condemning harsh industry conditions at the time.

The airline said Joyce’s exit would help it “accelerate its renewal,” giving the sense of a company bowing to public and political pressure after years of weathering it.

Over a decade and a half, Joyce faced regular criticism for cutting jobs, including a 2011 decision to ground the entire Qantas fleet over an industrial dispute.

Even before the fares-for-no-flights scandal, Qantas was facing negative headlines over reports it campaigned successfully to have Australia’s federal government stop rival Qatar Airways from running additional flights to Australia.

The airline also faced scrutiny over a decision to let nearly 500 million Australian dollars ($323.00 million) of pandemic-era flight credits expire by the end of the year, which it reversed shortly after the regulator filed its lawsuit.

Joyce, who announced a record annual profit last month after three years of pandemic-driven losses, had long been popular with investors.

But the airline’s share price had fallen 13% since the start of August amid questions over whether it had maximized profits at the expense of its longer-term reputation with customers. The shares were down slightly on Tuesday, in line with the broader market.

Qantas declined a request to interview its chairman, Richard Goyder. Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, Goyder said it was “a time for humility, and I think you’ll see plenty of that as well.”

Joyce’s early retirement will see his replacement, Vanessa Hudson, become the first woman to lead the century-old airline from Wednesday.

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