Christoph Mueller tipped for top job at Abu Dhabi-based Etihad

Ex-Aer Lingus boss said to be lead candidate to succeed James Hogan at the airline

Former Aer Lingus boss Christoph Mueller. Photograph: Reuters/Joe Skipper

Former Aer Lingus boss Christoph Mueller is said to be in running to succeed James Hogan at Etihad.

According to a report in Handelsblatt, Mr Mueller, who is credited with rescuing the fortunes of the Irish carrier and more recently Malaysian Airlines after two disasters in 2014, is the lead candidate.

The Abu Dhabi-based airline is expected to make an announcement within days.

Mr Mueller has been chief digital officer with rival Persian Gulf carrier Emirates since last September.

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"The search continues both internally and externally for the role of Etihad Aviation group's chief executive and when we are ready to make an announcement we will do so," an Eithad spokesman told The Irish Times.

“Until that time any suggested names are just industry and media rumours and speculation,” he added.

Etihad is under pressure to adapt to slowing growth after years of rapid expansion. In February, the carrier said it was conducting a company-wide strategic review and that Mr Hogan would step down in the second half of 2017.

The review could include adjustments to the network of equity partnerships with other carriers that Hogan used to engineer Etihad’s rapid growth.

Two of the major European airlines in which Etihad has invested, Air Berlin and Alitalia, are losing money, adding to pressure on Etihad's earnings caused by slowing growth in the Middle East's aviation market.

Etihad owns stakes in seven airlines around the world: Air Berlin, Alitalia Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, Etihad Regional in Switzerland, India’s Jet Airways and Virgin Australia.

In 10 years Etihad grew from being a 22-plane regional carrier into a global operation with 120 aircraft. Its growth helped attract visitors to Abu Dhabi as the wealthy emirate, seeking to diversify its oil-based economy, developed a tourism industry.

But in recent months a slowing regional economy, overcapacity in the airline industry and a strong US dollar have hurt Etihad.

In December, the group said it was cutting jobs in some parts of its business, but did not give a number.

An industry source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Mr Hogan’s departure was unlikely to mean any change to the current restructuring plan for Air Berlin, which had already obtained board approval.

Additional reporting Reuters

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times