Air Canada exec to become new CEO of Air France-KLM

Air Canada chief operating officer Ben smith is leaving the company to become the chief executive at Air France-KLM.
Ben Smith, Air Canada's chief commercial officer, has been picked to become the next CEO of Air France-KLM. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Air Canada chief operating officer Ben smith will leave the company to become the chief executive at Air France-KLM.

Air Canada confirmed that Smith will resign his position with the company effective August 31. Air Canada said Smith was leaving to become CEO at a "European-based global airline."

"We wish Ben well in his future endeavours and congratulate him on his appointment," Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu said in a release.

Smith began working for Air Canada in 2002, joined the ranks of its executive management in 2007, and became COO in 2014.

Air France-KLM's board of directors said Smith will take over his new role by Sept. 30.

Smith becomes the first non-French top executive in Air France's history.

"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 said in a release.

He is replacing Jean-Marc Janaillac, who quit as CEO of Air France-KLM in May after staff rejected his offer of a pay deal aimed at stopping a wave of strikes.

Smith could face a rough reception from the company's employees. Unions representing pilots and ground staff both offered critical comments earlier this week before Smith's appointment was confirmed. Unions are also reported to be considering whether to begin more strikes on Aug. 27.

According to a report from Reuters, Smith will have a challenge in renegotiating Air France labour contracts to cut costs.

"It's going to be a tough job," James Halstead, a consultant at U.K.-based Aviation Strategy, told the news agency.