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American Airlines’ Kreeger to Be New Virgin Atlantic CEO

By MARIETTA CAUCHI And DANIEL MICHAELS

LONDON—Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., which last month linked up with Delta Air Lines Inc., DAL +0.38% deepened its ties to the U.S. aviation market by hiring American Airlines veteran Craig Kreeger as its new chief executive.

Mr. Kreeger, 53 years old, succeeds current CEO Steve Ridgway, who is retiring from the airline next month after 23 years, the last 11 as chief executive. Mr. Ridgway will work alongside Mr. Kreeger until then.

The CEO change comes just a month after U.S. carrier Delta Air Lines Inc. agreed to buy Singapore Airlines Ltd.’s C6L.SG -0.18% 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic for $360 million. The deal boosts the position of Delta, the No. 2 U.S. carrier by traffic, at London’s Heathrow Airport. The move continued a run of deals that Delta has struck with other carriers at bargain prices to expand its global network.

With the partnership, Delta and Virgin Atlantic will have 36% of the business on the important New York-London route, coming much closer to the 51% controlled by a joint venture of British Airways IAG.MC +3.86% and American, a unit of AMR Corp.AAMRQ +24.03% BA is a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA. United Continental Holdings Inc. would fall to third place, with 13% of the market, according to Buckingham Research Group.

“We are thrilled to welcome Craig to Virgin Atlantic. He is the right person to succeed Steve Ridgway at this dynamic and challenging time for our airline,” said Virgin Atlantic’s president and founder, Richard Branson.

“We believe Craig has the experience and passion to drive Virgin Atlantic forward and capitalize on the opportunities created by our new venture with Delta,” Mr. Branson said.

As part of the deal with Delta, the Virgin Group and its founder retain a controlling 51% stake. The joint venture will focus on cooperation between New York and London and reciprocal frequent-flier benefits for passengers.

Known for its luxurious and trendy business-class service and long-haul routes, Virgin Atlantic now has 44 airplanes flying to 34 destinations world-wide. In its fiscal year that ended in February, it carried 5.4 million passengers, generated £2.74 billion ($4.42 billion) of revenue and had a pretax operating loss of £80.2 million.

In a sign of Virgin’s deepening its ties to the U.S., Mr. Kreeger is the second American Airlines executive to join recently, following the appointment of Maria Sebastian to a new position of director of world-wide sales in September.

The hires could also boost Delta’s plan to use Virgin Atlantic to boost corporate sales, a key driver of profit. Announcing the deal to buy Singapore Airlines’ stake in December, Delta CEO Richard Anderson focused heavily on this angle.

Mr. Kreeger joined American Airlines in 1985 as an analyst and has held commercial, financial and strategic roles for the carrier in his 27 years there, according to Virgin Atlantic. He was appointed senior vice president of customer service in 2012, having previously served a senior vice president of international operations.

AMR chief executive Tom Horton praised Mr. Kreeger in a statement and wished him well at Virgin, even though the two carriers are rivals. Mr. Kreeger leaves American after surviving big cuts of the carrier’s senior management as part of its continuing bankruptcy reorganization, according to a former colleague.

Jonathan D. Snook, American’s vice president of operations planning and performance, is succeeding Mr. Kreeger at the airline.

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