Laura Wright's promotion puts her in the hot seat. Wright, the new CFO of $5.9 billion Southwest Airlines Co., faces the challenge of maintaining Southwest's low cost structure as one of the airline's big expenses, fuel oil, skyrockets in price.

Wright, 44, had been Southwest's treasurer and vice president of finance before being named CFO. She succeeds Gary Kelly, who was promoted to vice chairman and CEO of the airline after serving as its CFO since 1989.

Even as the older and larger airlines have struggled and, in some cases, been forced into bankruptcy, Southwest Airlines has managed to stay in the black, posting a profit for 31 consecutive years, including the difficult period following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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