SEATTLE ( TheStreet) -- Alaska Air ( ALK) said CEO Bill Ayer, who is 57, will retire in May after 30 years with the carrier. Ayer spent 10 years as CEO, overseeing a successful turnaround for the West Coast carrier that is now the seventh largest U.S. airline. Alaska had the best share performance among U.S. carriers in 2011. It has leveraged off its dominance at its Seattle hub to become a highly prized partner for various carriers, but has discouraged continuing merger speculation.
Alaska Airlines CEO Bill Ayer
Ayer, who will remain chairman, said he will retire at the company's annual meeting on May 15 and be replaced as CEO of Alaska Air Group by President Brad Tilden, who is 51. In a statement released Thursday morning, Ayer declared, "The time is right to implement a succession plan that's been in the works for several years and which the board and I believe will ensure that we continue to lead the industry in safety, customer service, operational and financial performance, and technological innovation." Also Thursday, the carrier announced a two-for-one stock split, which will take the form of a stock dividend distributed on March 16, 2012, to shareholders of record on March 2. The split will increase Alaska's outstanding shares to about 71 million from about 35.5 million. Alaska will spend $50 million to buy back common stock over the next year. Ayer joined Horizon Air, Alaska's regional partner, in 1982. He became Alaska CEO in 2002 and chairman in 2003. Tilden joined Alaska Airlines from Price Waterhouse in 1991. He was promoted as Alaska Air Group chief financial officer in 2000 and to president of Alaska Airlines in 2008. -- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/tedreednc. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed