Canadian Ben Smith appointed Air France-KLM CEO

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Canadian Benjamin Smith was appointed as the new CEO of Air France-KLM - the first time in its 85 year long existence that a French man is not at the head of the French-Dutch airline combination. Smith is currently the chief operating officer of Air Canada. He will take office at Air France-KLM on September 30th at the latest, NOS reports.

The appointment of a new CEO was initially scheduled for sometime in September, but over the past week French pilots pressured the company under threat of strikes to name a new CEO as soon as possible. There has been a wage conflict between the French pilots and the airline for a long time. Three months ago former CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac resigned after employees rejected his final wage offer.

Smith, 46, has been working at Air Canada for 20 years. He has experience with labor disputes and trade unions. In 2015 he concluded 10 year collective bargaining agreements with Air Canada pilots and cabin crew members. His first language is English, but he can also speak French, according to the broadcaster.

KLM president Pieter Elbers said it is good for Air France-KLM that there is now clarity about its CEO. "I look forward to our cooperation and to jointly tackling the challenges of the group in the future", he said to NOS.

Smith's appointment has the support of the French state, which owns a 14.4 percent share in Air France-KLM. Two other major shareholders, Delta Air Lines and China Eastern, each with nearly 9 percent of the shares, insisted on a candidate with a lot of international aviation experience. 

The French trade unions are not pleased with the Canadian man's appointment. According to the representatives of the pilots, cabin crew and ground staff, Smith is an outsider. "The choice of a candidate must serve the national interests of our national airline", they said, according to NOS. They called a foreigner as chairman "incomprehensible".

Dutch pilots union VNV, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about Smith from the start. "This man satisfies what we wanted to see: aviation experience with a solid company", the union said. VNV hopes that he will listen carefully to the needs of the staff.