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Air France strike leader defeated in boost for new CEO

Tails of Air France airplanes are seen at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy, near Paris, France, August 26, 2018. Picture taken August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Laurence Frost and Caroline Pailliez

PARIS (Reuters) - The head of Air France-KLM's (AIRF.PA) biggest French pilots' union, who led a recent series of pay strikes, suffered electoral defeat on Tuesday in a boost for new boss Ben Smith as he seeks cost-cutting deals with flight and cabin crew.

SNPL leader Philippe Evain became the public face of industrial action which earlier this year wiped 335 million euros ($380 million) off the airline group's earnings and led to the abrupt departure of Smith's predecessor Jean-Marc Janaillac.

Smith, a former Air Canada second-in-command, had voiced hope that the election would lead to new union leadership.

"I think it's clear our pilots at Air France want a more stable airline," the chief executive told analysts on the company's last earnings call in late October. "More and more there's a common belief that ways of the past have not helped."

Evain placed 41st out of 48 Air France pilots elected to represent the SNPL, according to a breakdown of results circulated by the union on Tuesday.

"This is a disavowal of Philippe Evain's line," said a source close to the vote count. "He's clearly been marginalised."

Evain did not return calls and messages from Reuters seeking comment.

The clear winner of the SNPL ballot was Vincent Bossy, another pilot leader seen by management as more open to substantive negotiations on issues such as the expansion of Air France's low-cost Transavia brand.

Bossy's list and aligned groupings and independents will control 34 of the 48 seats in the SNPL council, which is due to elect a new executive and president in January. Labour talks are unlikely to progress until then.

Smith is also mulling plans to scrap lower-cost operator Joon, Air France's newest brand, in a move that could smooth the path to comprehensive new labour accords, sources told Reuters last week.


($1 = 0.8820 euros)


(Reporting by Laurence Frost; editing by David Evans)