Lead candidate to head Air France-KLM is Air Canada’s COO

Air France-KLM’s (PA:AIRF) nominations committee has picked Benjamin Smith, Air Canada’s (TO:AC) chief operating officer, as its preferred candidate to head the airline.

Le Monde quoted an unnamed senior Air France-KLM official as saying that no decision had yet been taken and that the final decision lay with the company’s board of directors.

Air France-KLM has been hunting for a new boss since the abrupt departure of chief executive Jean-Marc Janaillac in May after staff rejected a pay offer aimed at ending costly strikes.

Asked to comment on the report in Le Monde, an Air France-KLM spokeswoman said: “The appointment process for the new Air France-KLM governance is underway and is continuing. No decision has been made.”

The French state is the biggest shareholder in Air France-KLM with a stake of about 14 percent. Delta Airlines (N:DAL) and China Eastern Airlines (SS:600115) each hold 8.8 percent.

Senior French officials familiar with President Emmanuel Macron‘s thinking have said he is open to considering a non-French national to lead the group for the first time.

The appointment is seen as a test of Macron‘s resolve regarding the state taking a lighter touch on the economy.

Anne-Marie Couderc, the interim chairman of Air France KLM, said in a memorandum last month seen by Reuters that the airline hoped to have a new leadership team up and running by September./reuters.com

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