Singapore Airlines Ltd., the world’s second-largest carrier by market value, said it is considering “several” candidates to become chief executive officer as Chew Choon Seng signaled that he will step down.
“It’s at the mercy of the board, but I am getting on in years,” Chew, who turns 64 today, said after a shareholders meeting in Singapore. “I should move on.”
Singapore Airlines shares have doubled since Chew, whose contract expires in December, took over at the carrier in 2003 when the SARS crisis hammered air travel in Asia. He managed an unbroken run of annual profits even as the carrier faced record jet-fuel prices, the global recession and repeated delays in deliveries of its Airbus SAS A380 superjumbos.
“Chew has a very steady hand,” said Rohan Suppiah, an analyst at Kim Eng Securities Pte in Singapore. “His ability to pull the airline out of difficult operating times is fantastic.”
The airline is “on schedule” to find a successor for Chew, said Chairman Stephen Lee. The company has looked at “several” candidates, both within and outside the company, he said, without elaboration.
Chew took over from Cheong Choong Kong in June 2003 when the deadly respiratory virus emptied planes. Under Chew, the carrier posted a record S$2.13 billion ($1.6 billion) profit in the year ended in March 2007. In October that year, he introduced the A380, making Singapore Airlines the first carrier to fly the world’s biggest passenger jet.
Profit slid to S$216 million last year — the worst in more than two decades — as the global recession hurt travel. Yesterday, the airline reported a third straight quarterly profit as a rebounding global economy revives travel demand.
The carrier may post a profit of S$1.3 billion in the year ending in March, according to the average of 23 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
The airline gained 1.8 percent to S$15.02 today in Singapore, the biggest gain in more than two weeks. The shares have increased 0.5 percent this year, lagging behind the benchmark Straits Times Index’s 2.8 percent advance.
A veteran of more than three decades at the airline, Chew is a mechanical engineer with a Master’s of Science degree from London’s Imperial College.