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American Airlines CEO Doug Parker speaks with reporters at the White House, in Washington, on Sept. 17, 2020.Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

American Airlines Group Inc. chief executive officer Doug Parker will hand over the reins of the No. 1 U.S. airline to president Robert Isom on March 31, the company said on Tuesday, sending its shares up more than 3 per cent before the bell.

Mr. Parker will continue as chairman, while Mr. Isom will join the carrier’s board after he takes over as CEO.

Mr. Isom, a long-time airline industry executive, took over as president in 2016 and has overseen operations, planning, marketing and pricing.

The leadership change comes as the industry recovers from the lows hit during the pandemic but faces operational challenges because of the threat posed by the Omicron coronavirus variant.

In a letter to employees, Mr. Parker said the transition was the result of a “thoughtful and well-planned multiyear process,” dating back to Mr. Isom’s elevation to president in 2016.

Mr. Parker said the transition would have happened sooner if it was not for the pandemic, which brought the airline industry to its knees.

“While we still have work to do, the recovery from the pandemic is under way and now is the right time to make the transition,” he said.

Mr. Parker, the longest-serving chief executive of a major U.S. airline, is known for overseeing consolidation in the industry as well as leading it through crises.

He took the reins at America West Airlines just 10 days before the 9/11 attacks. When America West merged with US Airways in 2005, Mr. Parker continued as CEO of the combined company.

He was named chairman and CEO of American Airlines in 2013 after its merger with US Airways.

He was also instrumental in negotiating a COVID-19 relief package for the industry, which saved thousands of jobs, prevented bankruptcy and put it in a position to support the economy’s recovery from the pandemic.

Under Mr. Parker, American expanded overseas and took on low-cost carriers at home, sparking a fare war. He formed strategic partnerships with Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways Corp. to compete in markets where other carriers had an advantage.

The alliance with JetBlue, however, has invited lawsuits from the U.S. Justice Department and six states.

In June, Southwest Airlines Co. named company veteran Robert Jordan as CEO in place of Gary Kelly, who will step down next year.

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