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Air France-KLM names Air Canada's Smith as next chief

Air France-KLM has appointed Benjamin Smith as its next chief executive, three months after Jean-Marc Janaillac resigned following failed labour negotiations.

Smith is charged with revitalising the group and bringing a new approach to leadership, especially to Air France which has been beset with labour unrest, says the Air France-KLM board of directors in a statement today. He will take over as CEO by 30 September.

“I am very enthusiastic about this new opportunity," says Smith in a statement. "I am well aware of the competitive challenges the Air France-KLM Group is currently facing and I am convinced that the airlines’ teams have all the strengths to succeed in the global airline market."

Smith is partially credited with the transformation of Air Canada in recent years, including the rapid expansion it has undergone as well as the establishment of its low-cost subsidiary Rouge.

"We wish Ben well in his future endeavours and congratulate him on his appointment," says Calin Rovinescu, chief executive of Air Canada, who also thanks him for his work at the carrier.

Smith remains president of airlines and chief operating officer at Air Canada until 31 August. He joined the airline in 2002.

The move is a step up for Smith. Air France-KLM is the third largest airline group in Europe, and nearly twice the size of Air Canada, FlightGlobal schedules capacity data for 2017 shows.

However, he joins Air France-KLM at a time of turmoil for the carrier. Pilots have postponed further strike actions since his predecessor resigned in May, but are threatening further industrial action in September.

"I look forward to earning the trust and respect of all teams, working together to win in this highly competitive and fast-changing customer service industry," says Smith in a statement. He does not refer to pilots specifically.

Anne-Marie Couderc, non-executive chairman of the Air France-KLM and Air France boards, will continue to act as interim president until Smith officially begins his new role.

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