The process of choosing a new CEO for Air France-KLM is causing turbulence for the airline, as French media reports that Philippe Capron, the CFO of Paris-based water and waste management company Veolia, was on point to being nominated sparked a backlash.

Air France-KLM is in turmoil after a bitter labor dispute over pay at Air France degenerated into a management crisis following the surprise departure in May of former group CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac.

Janaillac held the post for less than two years and was in the early stages of implementing a turnaround strategy to help it better compete with rival airlines in a tough market but resigned after employees voted against a pay proposal he hoped would bring about an end to the long-running labor conflict.

With interim management in place since May, a nomination committee tasked with finding a successor to Janaillac had been expected to propose Capron imminently for approval from the board.

But a group calling itself TousAirFrance—comprising employees, former union leaders and a former board member—sent an open letter to Air France-KLM management highlighting the need for “a person who really understands the airline industry and grasps the competitive reality Air France-KLM has to face.”

“An inappropriate decision by the nomination committee could have drastic consequences as we are at a crossroads of huge airline consolidation in which Air France-KLM seriously lags behind. In that case it will be far from sure that Air France-KLM does not become the next Sabena or Alitalia,” the letter warned.  

French economy minister Bruno Le Maire insisted Capron was “one candidate among others” during a televised debate June 24, adding that he hoped the choice of a new CEO for the Franco Dutch group would be made within weeks rather than months. “All shareholders should have their say,” LeMaire said. The French state holds 14.3% of Air France-KLM, while Delta Air Lines and China Eastern Airlines hold 8.8% each.

Helen Massy-Beresford