Air Canada exec to become new CEO of Air France-KLM

Lloyd Doyle
August 18, 2018

Benjamin Smith, the current COO of Air Canada, was named the new head of troubled Air FrancE- KLM airline alliance on Thursday evening, the airline said in a statement. Air Canada said Smith was leaving to become CEO at a "European-based global airline".

The French state has a 14 percent stake in Air France-KLM, while Delta Airlines and China Eastern Airlines each hold 8.8 percent.

Smith, who has acted as chief negotiator during labour talks for Air Canada's low-priced Rouge unit, would replace former Air France-KLM CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac, who quit more than three months ago when staff turned down his offer of a pay deal aimed at halting a wave of strikes.

Unions are to discuss another round of strike action on August 27, when Smith's reported pay package of up to 3.3 million euros - if confirmed - could further fan the flames.

A spokesperson for Air France-KLM declined to confirm reports of a new CEO and said the appointment process was ongoing.

Government officials say President Emmanuel Macron is open to a non-French national leading the group for the first time. Interim chairman Anne-Marie Couderc will stay on until Smith's arrival.

Known to speak French, Smith has a track record in dealing with unions, and was the main negotiator in talks with pilot and cabin crew staff at Air Canada that resulted in a 10-year agreement in 2015.

The deals themselves also required unions to sign away their right to strike providing agreed milestones were met - another feat unlikely to be reproduced in France, where legal constraints on industrial action are fewer and hotly contested.

Smith could face a rough reception from the company's employees. "Air France has not been able to do it".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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