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Lead candidate to head Air France-KLM is Air Canada's COO - Le Monde

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By Reuters
Lead candidate to head Air France-KLM is Air Canada's COO - Le Monde
Benjamin Smith, President of Air Canada poses for a picture during a reception at the 2016 International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit in Dublin, Ireland June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne   -   Copyright  Clodagh Kilcoyne(Reuters)

PARIS (Reuters) – Air France-KLM’s <AIRF.PA> nominations committee has picked Benjamin Smith, Air Canada’s <AC.TO> chief operating officer, as its preferred candidate to head the airline, French newspaper Le Monde reported on Wednesday.

Le Monde quoted an unnamed senior Air France-KLM official as saying that no decision had yet been taken and that the final decision lay with the company’s board of directors.

Air France-KLM has been hunting for a new boss since the abrupt departure of chief executive Jean-Marc Janaillac in May after staff rejected a pay offer aimed at ending costly strikes.

Asked to comment on the report in Le Monde, an Air France-KLM spokeswoman said: “The appointment process for the new Air France-KLM governance is underway and is continuing. No decision has been made.”

The French state is the biggest shareholder in Air France-KLM with a stake of about 14 percent. Delta Airlines <DAL.N> and China Eastern Airlines <600115.SS> each hold 8.8 percent.

Senior French officials familiar with President Emmanuel Macron’s thinking have said he is open to considering a non-French national to lead the group for the first time.

The appointment is seen as a test of Macron’s resolve regarding the state taking a lighter touch on the economy.

Anne-Marie Couderc, the interim chairman of Air France KLM, said in a memorandum last month seen by Reuters that the airline hoped to have a new leadership team up and running by September.

Air France KLM on Wednesday reported higher traffic figures for July.

(Reporting by Cyril Altmeyer, Matthieu Protard and Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Richard Lough and Jason Neely)