The tails of Air France planes parked at Charles-de-Gaulle airport near Paris, France. Picture: REUTERS
The tails of Air France planes parked at Charles-de-Gaulle airport near Paris, France. Picture: REUTERS

Paris — Air France-KLM, hit by strikes and without a CE since May, reported higher traffic figures on Monday, which lifted its battered shares. But sources voiced caution about the possible appointment of a top French transport executive as its new boss.

The company said the group overall — comprising the networks of Air France-KLM, Hop! and Transavia — carried 9.3-million passengers in June, up 3.7% from a year earlier.

The overall load factor, a measure of the extent to which an airline has filled its aircraft, rose to 89.3% in June from 87.7% in 2017, it said.

The higher figures lifted Air France-KLM shares, which were up 7.2% in morning trading, but they remain down about 40% so far in 2018, mainly due to the effect of the strikes on the firm.

"Overall, June’s traffic statistics are a return to normality and highlight the favourable market conditions that exist despite the strike which impacted April and May results," wrote Irish brokerage Goodbody in a note. "Discussions on a new CE continue and this appointment will be crucial for further union negotiations over the summer third quarter period."

Abrupt departure

Air France-KLM said in June that it hoped to appoint a new CE "as quickly as possible", against the backdrop of concern among some of its shareholders about the process.

The airline has been hunting for a new boss since the abrupt departure of Jean-Marc Janaillac in May after staff rejected a pay proposal aimed at ending strikes that have led to heavy losses.

French newspaper Le Figaro reported on Monday that Catherine Guillouard, CE of French public transport group RATP, was being considered for the CE position.

An Air France-KLM spokeswoman declined to comment on the process.

Last week, French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said it was important the new CE was an air transport specialist.

The French government has a stake of about 14% in Air France-KLM. Delta Airlines and China Eastern Airlines each hold 8.8%, while AccorHotels has considered taking a minority stake in Air France-KLM to help Accor compete with broader travel packages offered by online rivals such as Expedia and Booking.com.

Goodbody said Guillouard could be a solid appointment, given her experience dealing with transport unions, including those at Air France. But two sources told Reuters she was not an official candidate.

"She is not a candidate, no! But as her CV ticks a lot of the right boxes, people are thinking about her. A lot of people would like her to take up the job," said one source.

A third source said it would be hard for the government to back Guillouard, as it would leave a gap at the RATP, with Guillouard having taken over at the RATP only a year ago.

Recruitment firm Egon Zehnder is helping out in the search for a new CE.

Reuters