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The next CEO of Air France is not French. Unions say that's 'inconceivable'

PARIS, Aug 16: An outsider at the controls of France's national airline has produced a sharp backlash from unions. French unions said in a statement Thursday that it was "inconceivable" that Air France-KLM would name current Air Canada executive Benjamin Smith as its new CEO.

"Other countries and governments show fierce protectionism when it comes to their airlines. How ... could we allow Air France to fall into foreign hands?" the unions said in the statement.

Smith was named CEO of Air France-KLM (AFLYY) Thursday. The French state owns 14.3% of the airline group, and its economy minister publicly backed Smith earlier in the day.

Smith will be Air France's first foreign CEO in its 85-year history.

The controversy follows the shock resignation of former CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac in May after unions staged strikes that cost the airline group more than €300 million ($342 million). Shares in the company have dropped by a third since January.

The unions were highly critical of the choice of Smith on Thursday.

Philippe Evain, president of French pilot union SNPL, said that the Air Canada exec would likely be forced to keep current managers in place because of his "limited knowledge."

"We don't understand why they couldn't find a competent French person," he said during a radio interview. "We know that there were completely competent people who were sidelined from the selection process."

Smith is credited with spearheading an international expansion at Air Canada, helping the airline reach more than 200 destinations. He also led negotiations with pilot and flight attendant unions that resulted in long-term labor deals.

Industry analysts were optimistic about his potential at Air France-KLM.

"I see this as a good choice by the board, having found an executive that brings many of the required qualities for the post," said Daniel Roeska, an analyst at Bernstein. "The Air France unions have taken a very adversarial role here ... which, ironically, may just indicate how good that choice actually is."

The airline group was created in 2004 when Air France bought Dutch airline KLM. Critics say the group has failed to operate as a cohesive unit, with Air France suffering from labor spats and lower profitability than its Dutch counterpart.

The airline's disputes with unions have assumed wider significance in France, where President Emmanuel Macron has tried to push through labor reforms.

A representative at the Dutch pilot union VNV said he was keeping an open mind about Smith and hoped he would have a productive relationship with the unions.

"We have taken a look at his resume, and he had a very high position within Air Canada, and ... Air Canada is a good and respected airline," said Joost van Doesburg. "What we want is not a leader that dictates. We need a leader that has a dialogue with us."

In addition to the stake held by the French government, Delta Air Lines (DAL) and China Eastern Airlines each own 8.8% of Air France-KLM.

All 101 on board survive after Mexico plane crashes in Durango

MEXICO CITY, Aug 1: Dozens of people were injured on Tuesday when a packed Aeromexico-operated Embraer jet crashed soon after takeoff in Mexico’s state of Durango, but authorities said most were not seriously hurt and there were no fatalities.

The mid-sized jet was almost full, with 97 passengers and four crew members, when it came down at around 4pm local time (2100 GMT), Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, Mexico’s minister for communications and transportation, wrote on Twitter.

One passenger, identified as Jackeline Flores, told reporters she and her daughter escaped from a hole in the fuselage as the aircraft filled up with smoke and flames.

“A little girl who left the plane was crying because her legs were burned,” said Flores, who said she was Mexican but lived in Bogota, Colombia. The plane had barely left the ground in heavy rain when it came down, she said.

Flores said her passport and documents burned in the fire.

“I feel blessed and grateful to God,” she said.

TV images showed the severely damaged body of the plane after it came to rest in scrubland and a column of smoke rose into the sky.

The aircraft made an emergency landing about six miles (10km) from the airport, said Alejandro Cardoza, a spokesman for the state’s civil protection agency. Other authorities said the crash was closer to the airport.

Cardoza said in an interview that around 85 people had suffered mostly light injuries, adding that the fire resulting from the accident had been put out. The civil protection agency said 37 people were hospitalized, while the state health department said two passengers were in a critical condition.

“Many managed to leave the plane on foot,” Cardoza said.

The operator of Durango airport, Grupo Aeroportuario Centro Norte, attributed the crash to bad weather conditions, citing preliminary reports. The plane had barely taken off when it felt like it was hit by a strong air current, another passenger told network Televisa.

The head of Mexico’s civil aviation agency, Luis Gerardo Fonseca, said it could take months to know the cause of the accident. Speaking to Televisa, he said the plane’s voice and data recorders would be recovered once rescue efforts were completed.

Flight number 2431 was an Embraer 190 bound for Mexico City when it crashed, Aeromexico said on Twitter. A spokesman for the Mexican airline declined to disclose the passenger list or the nationalities of those on board.

A US Embassy spokesman said he did not currently have confirmation of whether any American citizens were involved in the accident.

The Embraer 190 has been involved in only one fatal crash, which occurred when a Henan Airlines flight overshot a Chinese runway in a 2010 accident, according to a summary by the Aviation Safety Network.

Aeromexico leased the 10 year-old aircraft involved in Tuesday’s incident from Republic Airlines in the United States in 2014, according to data on Planespotters.net.

Embraer said late on Tuesday that it had sent a team of technicians to the scene of the accident and stood ready to support the investigation.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto wrote on Twitter that he had instructed the defence, civil protection and transportation ministries to aid in the response to the crash.



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