Steve Ridgway attends a 'Future Heathrow' press conference in central London in November 2007. (Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images)
(USA TODAY) -- Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway plans to step down in 2013 after 23 years at the carrier.
The Associated Press writes that "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."
Virgin Atlantic says a search is underway for a new CEO. Citing an "unnamed person in the industry," The Wall Street Journal reports that current Virgin Atlantic COO Julie Southern would be "a likely leading internal candidate" to replace Ridgway.
Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson called Ridgway "a close friend and confidant," adding that he expects him to be involved in future Virgin projects.