For the first time there is no Frenchman at the head of Air France-KLM – and there is a strong wind

The search for a new CEO for Air France-KLM took three months. The responsibility of Canadian Benjamin Smith is smaller than that of his predecessor, his salary is much higher. The pilots of both airlines stand out again.

Nina Belz, Paris

  Canadian Benjamin Smith is the new boss of Air France-KLM. (Image: Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters)

Canadian Benjamin Smith becomes the new head of Air France-KLM. (Image: Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters)

Finally there is somebody again. Since Jean-Marc Janaillac deposited the operational leadership of Air France-KLM in May, there were a number of names that could be considered for the difficult task at the head of the company. Some, like the KLM boss Pieter Elbers, did the same thing. Philippe Capron, CFO of energy and waste management company Veolia, had already made progress in the recruitment process and preferred a board of directors. But he felt the resistance of the state, that is the biggest capital owner with 14.3%: the French economy minister Bruno Le Maire expressed his distrust at the end of June against the current television camera. Capron withdrew.

Lure with higher salary

Now it is said that the number two of Air Canada, Benjamin Smith, leads the airline. The 46-year-old, who led the operative trade of the Canadians, has a difficult task. First and foremost there is the conflict with the labor force of Air France, as a result of which its predecessor has given up his job. Janaillac had submitted his reform proposals to the staff to vote, but lost the referendum and drew the consequences. The unions are still demanding a wage increase of more than 5% this year; Janaillac offered a growth of 7% by 2021.

The 15 days of strike that accompanied this fight brought the company loss of € 335 million in the first half of the year. The operating result was therefore "only" € 150 million – € 321 million less than in the previous year. At the beginning of the week, the largest French pilot union threatened to stop SNPL again, should the new management misrepresent their priorities and not respond to their wage demands. Even at KLM, who often looks like a model student next to Air France, the pilots threatened to hit this week because they did not meet their salary requirements.

A big mountain work

That with Smith for the first time in the History of Air France is not a Frenchman at the head, is also due to the pressure of the relatively new shareholders Delta and China Eastern, each 8, 8% hold back. After the story with Capron, they apparently demanded that they expand the search for a new boss geographically; Do not talk to the French-speaking part of the world. In contrast, Smith has previously received the blessing from the largest shareholder. Minister Le Maire of the economy confirmed him an "excellent profile".

The French workforce, on the other hand, does not like the Canadian choice of homeland security. In view of the difficult search for a new management for the airline, the Board of Directors has decided to increase the fixed salary from around € 700,000 to about € 2.5 million per year – while they view their salary claims unanswered. It was known that the CEO function at Air France-KLM was considerably worse than other airlines. Moreover, the trade unions are a thorn in the eye, according to which the French state could withdraw from the aviation industry. They interpret government involvement as a guarantee. In June, amidst the confusion about finding a CEO, the Accor hotel group was surprisingly interested in showing the share of the French state; but now withdrawn.

Air France-KLM gets the third CEO in three years with Benjamin Smith; The hope that the Canadians bring peace to the company is great. He is, in contrast to his predecessor, exclusively directed at the executive committee and gives up the post of director of Air France. In addition to long-overdue structural reforms, business development is also an important issue. While the two largest European competitors Lufthansa and IAG (British Airways and Iberia) have significantly increased their turnover in the past 10 years, the French-Dutch companies have moved to the site.

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