The boss of Air France-KLM makes his first lap

The art of arousing desire. Appointed since the end of August, the new operational boss of Air France-KLM had so far made no public appearance. It has been done since Wednesday morning and his address to the Committee on Planning and Sustainable Development of the Senate. An audience not really chosen at random. Air France wishes to obtain a certain number of favors from the public authorities with regard to taxes and social charges.

Brilliant cut and navy blue suit without the slightest crease, the new boss, ex-number 2 Air Canada and English chose to make his introduction in French, almost without accent, but reading his text in a way rather schooly. Chance or coincidence, he often stumbles on the word "negotiation". However, Benjamin Smith did not hesitate to recall the social agreements signed with the staff who ended a strike that in 2018 cost Air France 350 million euros. However, the drivers have not yet said their last word, they claim a 5% extension on their payroll and discussions are still ongoing.

"Passengers must be better treated in the event of a strike"

In the future, Benjamin Smith intends to target "Premium customers" – clearly those who travel often – for professional reasons and pay the high price. So he promises them a real "Travel experience". Nevertheless to keep his roadmap, Benjamin Smith did not hesitate to leave his notebook of grievances: "The level of social security contributions in France and the lack of a cap result in a competitive gap of 500 million euros. Security is the responsibility of the airlines. Passengers must be better treated in the event of a strike. " Not to mention the traditional enemies of Air France that the new leader was not deprived of dezero: "We need to establish a more balanced competition with companies in the Persian Gulf (Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad) and low cost airlines (EasyJet or Ryanair)."

Faced with senators, Benjamin Smith is more comfortable in English to answer questions and clarify without taking gloves that Joon, the Air France subsidiary created just a year ago to appeal to low-cost customers, will stop his activity : "It has jeopardized trust between us and our customers." His predecessor, Jean-Marc Janaillac, behind this initiative, will appreciate. In this intervention, Aéroports de Paris, soon privatized, takes for its rank: "It takes thirty to forty minutes to make the route to Roissy, we do not have this problem in Schiphol (Amsterdam airport) which is much more fluid for passengers", balance who is driving both Air France and his Dutch sister KLM. A thinly veiled way to suggest that without improved service in Paris, he could take off and land more planes in Amsterdam.

4.25 million euros per year

More cautious about the social events taking place in France, Benjamin Smith recognizes an impact on the filling of planes, but refuses to quantify it before the publication of the first quarter results. It should not, in addition, shake the price of the action Air France-KLM, which drags below ten euros. Senators, though attentive, did not want to be teasing. They did not make the slightest allusion to his annual salary, 4.25 million euros (fixed plus variable) three and a half times higher than that of his predecessor in this post.

Franck Bouaziz photo Albert Facelly for Liberation


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