CEO Steve Ridgway on his Virgin Atlantic departure

Why is Steve Ridgway leaving Virgin?
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Story highlights

  • Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway announced his surprise departure next March
  • Rejected suggestions that he was leaving the company over a pay dispute
  • The 60-year-old took the helm in 2001, expanding from two to 40 long-haul craft
  • Declined to speculate on a successor: "It's too early to say"

Virgin Atlantic's outgoing chief executive officer, Steve Ridgway, says the company is flourishing in the industry's "squeezed middle," between low-cost and behemoth airlines.

The 60-year-old, who took the helm in 2001 and announced his resignation this week, spoke to CNN about his time with Virgin, which he joined in 1989.

Since then, Virgin has expanded from two 747s to 40 long-haul aircraft -- but competition in the industry has also intensified.

"We were completely squeezed at the beginning, and so maybe we've gone from being completely squeezed to being squeezed middle," Ridgway told CNN. "But it's something that makes us flourish."

He added, "I think that keeps us on our toes, it's meant that we continue to grow. And above all, we continue to innovate."

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The company, founded by British tycoon Sir Richard Branson and famed for luxury in-flight entertainment, specializes in long-haul flights.

But Ridgway wants Virgin Atlantic to expand and launch short-haul journeys, in an attempt to break BA's monopoly over European flying routes. He said: "We've already put in our application to fly to Moscow. I was up in Scotland last week looking at the routes."

Ridgway, who will step down in March next year, rejected suggestions that he was leaving the company over a pay dispute and said Virgin Atlantic management has been "legendary" in building up the carrier to its current size.

He declined to speculate on a successor, saying: "It's too early to say. We are starting -- we started a process, and that will now run now through the rest of the year."