New Air France-KLM CEO as Top Roles are Split

PARIS -- Air France-KLM said on Thursday it was splitting the chairman and chief executive roles and Jean-Cyril Spinetta would hand day-to-day running of the world's biggest airline by revenues to his deputy.

Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, currently deputy CEO, will become chief executive of both the Air France network and the merged Air France-KLM airline group from Jan 1, it said.

Spinetta, who had combined the chairman and CEO roles since leading Air France into a merger with KLM in 2004, will remain as chairman.

"After eleven years as chief executive of Air France, and then Air France-KLM, I felt it necessary to propose an internal solution that would guarantee continuity of governance, in view of the difficult economic climate facing us," Spinetta said in a statement.

Air France and Dutch carrier KLM merged under a common holding company but maintained separate networks and fleets.

One of the main challenges that will face Gourgeon in the coming year is airline industry consolidation, along with high oil prices.

Spinetta told French magazine Nouvel Observateur in an interview on Thursday that Europe's airline industry would have a "profoundly different landscape" by the end of 2009.

KLM chief Leo van Wijk will remain group deputy chairman.

Air France-KLM announced the moves following a board meeting that also coincided with a last-minute attempt in Italy to rescue failing carrier Alitalia.

A group of Italian investors earlier reactivated a bid for Alitalia that leaves room for a potential minority stake by Air France-KLM or Lufthansa, following a last-ditch union deal.

Air France bid for the whole of Alitalia earlier this year but withdrew the offer due to union opposition.

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