Air Canada chief operating officer Ben smith will leave the company to become the chief executive at Air France-KLM.
Smith, who has acted as chief negotiator during labour talks for Air Canada's low-priced Rouge unit, would replace former Air France-KLM CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac, who quit more than three months ago when staff turned down his offer of a pay deal aimed at halting a wave of strikes.
PARIS-Air France-KLM Group directors haven't even voted on hiring Ben Smith as the company's new chief executive and already its French unions are preparing a lively welcome for the Canadian executive.
A spokesperson for Air France-KLM declined to confirm reports of a new CEO and said the appointment process was ongoing.
Air France-KLM's board of directors said Smith will take over his new role by September 30. Air Canada said Smith was leaving to become CEO at a "European-based global airline".
Smith, 46, is credited with much of the economic development of Air Canada and the transformation of the carrier into its present position.
"It's going to be a tough job", James Halstead, a consultant at United Kingdom -based Aviation Strategy, told the news agency. They cited Donald Trump's presidency in the U.S.as evidence of an "economic war" in which national interests are paramount. "Other countries and governments show fierce protectionism when it comes to their airline", they said.
Air France took over KLM in 2003 when the Dutch airline was struggling, but the two have continued to operate independently.
Smith becomes the first non-French top executive in Air France's history.
While the appointment of a foreign airline CEO might be controversial in a French context, it's by no means unusual in the industry. And U.K. -based EasyJet Plc, which has grabbed market share on short-haul routes, recently hired Swede Johan Lundgren as CEO.
The statement appeared to be referring to Delta Airlines, the USA airline which owns 8.8 percent of the capital of Air France-KLM, the parent group formed out of the merger of Air France and KLM of the Netherlands in 2004. He was chief negotiator in the most recent wrangle with pilots and cabin crew, securing unprecedented 10-year deals with both groups.
Smith is no stranger to management-labor acrimony.
In March of that year, baggage handlers and ground workers staged an impromptu walkout that lasted 24 hours and led to more than 80 flights being canceled.
Smith will resign from his current post effective August 31. "Our deep and highly experienced leadership team will continue to deliver on our global ambitions, achieve our targets and drive our operational performance well into the future".