Since his appointment last year, Air France chief executive Alexandre de Juniac’s role has not seemed dissimilar to that of his compatriot Philippe Petit, a high-wire performer famous for his remarkable balancing routine.
In his efforts to reduce labour costs as part of a restructure de Juniac has walked a tightrope between appeasing shareholders and the French government which owns a 15% stake in the airline.
Yet with a new labour agreement already in place with ground staff and encouraging signs that its pilots will accept a new deal proposed by the SkyTeam carrier, de Juniac can afford to feel that his own balancing act is progressing well.
Clear evidence was given at the Air France-KLM group half-year financial results presentation in Paris that the Transform 2015 restructuring programme is reducing costs. Staff levels at the group have fallen by 2.2% within a year from 106,400 to 104,100 and another 2,000 employees will have left by the end of 2012. Most of those departures will be from the French carrier.
Most pleasing for de Juniac is that his achievements have come without major issues with Air France’s employees, nor has it been necessary to make the forced redundancies many observers thought were inevitable. “You all disbelieved me, saying I was saving redundancies until after the election, that’s not true, [Nicolas] Sarkozy said nothing [about staff lay-offs] ,” he told journalists over lunch after the presentation in Paris.
So far de Juniac is advancing unfalteringly along his own high-wire. But he is still only halfway across.