Air New Zealand has selected internal candidate Christopher Luxon to take the reins of the airline from current CEO Rob Fyfe by the end of this year.

Luxon, currently the head of international operations, was regarded as one of the favorites to be named CEO. The airline’s chairman John Palmer says that while the board conducted a global search, its preference was always to select an internal candidate.

The new leader-in-waiting has only been with Air NZ for about a year. The airline lured him back to New Zealand from his role as head of the Canadian operations of multinational giant Unilever.

Fyfe had already indicated he would leave the carrier by the end of the year. He will be a tough act to follow, having maintained profitability for the past 10 years. He also has a high profile on the global stage, playing a prominent role in the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and serving as the chairman of the Star Alliance.

Palmer says Luxon “clearly had an opportunity to potentially become CEO” when he joined Air NZ, but “there was no guarantee that would happen.” Luxon’s promotion was unveiled far in advance of Fyfe’s departure so he can work alongside Fyfe and ensure a smooth transition.

Luxon says he will step out of his role of general manager for international operations, allowing him to become familiar with the broader airline operations. Deputy CEO Norm Thompson will take over the day-to-day running of the international business.

Since joining Air NZ, Luxon has played a lead role in the carrier’s review of its international operation. He says he will remain heavily involved in this process to make sure the carrier’s plan is executed. The company set a goal of achieving an NZ$110 million ($87.3 million) earnings improvement from this review, and Luxon says the company is on track to achieve that goal.

Fyfe has recently been stressing Air NZ’s desire to add new North American services, and Luxon reiterates the airline’s interest in this market. He says the carrier’s North American routes have been performing very well during the past 12 months, and projections are for the next 12 months to have “huge amounts of opportunity for us” in this market.

Air NZ is currently undertaking a fresh evaluation of the North American market, to see if it should add new routes, or boost existing routes, says Luxon. While Auckland Airport has indicated that it is talking to other carriers about introducing service to the U.S., Luxon says he backs Air NZ’s ability to beat any competitor. Quite a few carriers have tried to enter this market, but Air NZ has always “been able to see them off,” says Luxon.

Luxon says he does not regard it as a disadvantage that he had little airline experience before he joined Air NZ a year ago. He says the airline has always benefitted from bringing in outside expertise and perspective to combine with the industry knowledge within the airline. Most recent Air NZ CEOs – including Fyfe – have had backgrounds mainly in other industries, Luxon says.