Heathrow Airport said its chief executive John Holland-Kaye had decided to step down after nine years as the boss of Britain’s biggest aviation hub and a process was underway to find his replacement, Report informs via Reuters.

Holland-Kaye wants to leave at some point this year, Heathrow said on Thursday, but will remain in the role until his successor starts.

Heathrow, which last year regained its top spot as the busiest airport in western Europe after sliding down the rankings during the COVID-19 pandemic, is owned by Spanish group Ferrovial and Qatar Investment Authority plus other investors.

Holland-Kaye spent the first part of his tenure trying to win support for Heathrow’s plan to build a third runway – a politically charged issue, given the site’s location in densely populated west London and environmental concerns.

Soon after parliament gave its backing for the expansion, the pandemic struck, bringing most travel to a standstill for months at a time, and pushing Heathrow into survival mode as traffic figures collapsed to their lowest levels for decades.

As the threat from COVID-19 receded, Holland-Kaye made regular television appearances encouraging Britain to re-open for travel and drop onerous testing requirements.

Heathrow chairman Paul Deighton thanked Holland-Kaye for his leadership.

“He has worked tirelessly and collaboratively with shareholders, ministers, airlines and other stakeholders to ensure the country can be proud of its ‘front door’,” Deighton said in a statement.