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Ex-Foodstuffs boss Carter to head up Air NZ board

Tuesday 14th May 2013

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Former Foodstuffs boss Tony Carter will take up the chair at Air New Zealand's board when existing chairman John Palmer steps down after September's annual meeting.

The announcement comes amid growing anticipation of the government's planned sell-down of its three-quarter stake in the airline. Carter joined the national carrier's board two years ago when Palmer signalled this would be his final term on the airline's board. He holds the chair at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, and is a non-executive director at ANZ Bank New Zealand and Fletcher Building.

"Air New Zealand is an incredible company that holds a special place in the heart of our nation," Carter said in a statement. "I look forward to working with chief executive officer Christopher Luxon and his world class management team as the airline goes on this next exciting phase of its journey."

Palmer took over Air NZ's chair in 2001 when the government was forced to bailout the airline over its ill-fated investment in the now-defunct Ansett. He follows chief executive Rob Fyfe out the door, who departed last year, and will stay on as a director until early next year to help with the transition.

Carter paid tribute to Palmer's role at the airline, saying he "ensured the board supported successive management teams under three outstanding chief executive officers to see the airline return to its place as one of the best in the world."

Palmer faced a rockier path as chairman of state-owned coal miner Solid Energy, which was left in a parlous state by the seemingly unchallenged grand designs of former chief executive Don Elder to build a global energy group. That chairmanship has since been taken over by government fix-it man Mark Ford.

Last year, Palmer told Parliament's finance and expenditure committee the airline's "disappointing" share price meant the government wouldn't be in a hurry to reduce its stake in Air NZ to a controlling 51 percent.

Since then, the airline has embarked on a share buyback programme to lift the price, and last month flagged its annual earnings will more than double this year.

The shares rose 1 percent to $1.515 today, and have climbed 16 percent this year. The stock is rated an average 'outperform' based on seven analyst recommendations compiled by Reuters, with a median target price of $1.815.

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