Nearly three years after leaving the top job at American Airlines, Don Carty will face off with his old company as chairman of startup carrier Virgin America.
Carty, 59, stepped down in 2003 after five years as chief executive of Fort Worth-based American amid an employee uproar over a lucrative executive pension plan and retention bonuses. The perks were disclosed just after employees had approved steep concessions that kept the airline out of bankruptcy.
He joins Virgin America as an investor as well as the airline's chairman. Carty was not available for comment Monday, but in a statement he called Virgin America a "compelling business opportunity."
Carty is the second former major airline executive to join Virgin.
Fred Reid, former president of Delta Air Lines, is the carrier's chief executive.
Carty "certainly brings industry knowledge to the table," said Richard Gritta, a finance professor at the University of Portland who has studied the airline industry extensively.
"That's going to impress the money people."
But some labor leaders at American said they were dismayed that Carty might return to prominence within the industry.
"From a labor perspective, it's disappointing," said Lori Bassani, a spokeswoman for the Association of Professional Flight attendants.
For many American employees, Carty continues to symbolize management that enriches itself at the expense of labor. A recent resolution from the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the pilots union, for example, condemned a slate of management bonuses as "Don Carty-ish."
Carty was appointed chairman by investment group VAI Partners, Virgin's controlling shareholder. Richard Branson's Virgin Group, which is based in the United Kingdom, owns 25 percent of the airline.
The airline is based in San Francisco and will use the airport there as a hub. It plans to begin service this year if granted approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
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