Dieter Vranckx, CEO of Brussels Airlines, is to leave his post after less than a year in the job, as part of a reshuffle at parent company Lufthansa Group.
Vranckx arrived in the job on 1 January this year, when Christina Foerster was promoted from CEO to chairperson. On 1 January 2021 he will take over as CEO of Swiss, another airline in the Lufthansa group.
His departure means there is no Belgian in the top ranks of Brussels Airlines for the first time since it was taken over by Lufthansa.
For Vranckx himself, the unexpected change is seen as a promotion. Swiss is the best-performing airline of the Lufthansa group, with a profit margin of 10.8% before the coronavirus pandemic gutted the airline industry.
And he is returning to Switzerland, where his family still lives. In the year 2000, after only two years at the former national airline Sabena, he moved to Swissair, then the parent company of Sabena. When Swissair went broke (taking Sabena down with it) he remained in place with its successor Swiss, by then a Lufthansa property.
Vranckx had the misfortune to take over as CEO just two months before the arrival of the biggest problem to face the industry in recent years: the outbreak in China of a disease known as Covid-19 which was to spread worldwide and cripple the airline industry.
In the year to date, Brussels Airlines saw its passenger numbers plummet by 73% from pre-Covid numbers. The crisis led to a relief package from the federal government of €290 million, even as parent company Lufthansa was seeking similar aid packages from the German and Swiss governments.
Yet despite the crisis, he somehow managed to steer unions and management through negotiations for a restructuring process known as Reboot Plus, which will lead to the loss of one in four jobs.
“We will not survive the crisis in our current form. Therefore restructuring is needed,” he said at the time. “That is painful, but the reward afterwards will be correspondingly positive.”
By the time he leaves Brussels to return to Switzerland, 90% of the cuts planned will have been implemented.
He will be replaced on 1 March by Peter Gerber, who currently heads Lufthansa Cargo. His job will entail not only running the ailing airline, but also representing Lufthansa with the European institutions.