Virgin Atlantic CEO to Retire

NEW YORK -- Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway is retiring early next year, following 23 years with the British airline founded by Richard Branson.

Since he joined the company as managing director of the frequent flyer program, Virgin Freeway, the airline has grown from two 747 planes to a fleet of 40 long-haul aircraft. It now flies 6 million passengers a year around the world.

Ridgway, 60, said in a statement he's seen "many great times and a few bad" and said the airline must continue to offer something different than its competitors. The executive is leading the search for his successor.

Branson called Ridgway a "close friend and confidant" and said he'll likely be involved in future Virgin projects.

Virgin Atlantic has been 49% owned by Singapore Airlines ( SINGY) since 2000, in a deal that valued the airline at 1.23 billion pounds ($1.97 billion).

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