Air France’s New Female Boss Has a Flight Plan Cleared for Take Off

As the first female CEO at Air France, Anne Rigail says she needs to cut costs, lift profits, solve labor turmoil to get the airline flying high again.

Air France is off to a turbulent start to 2020. Unions in France are in a standoff with the French government over pension reforms and are threatening walkouts and strikes. But no matter how it all plays out, Air France’s new CEO plans to tough it out and run the entire flight schedule as planned.

This tough response says a lot about Anne Rigail, who was tapped for the airline’s top job a year ago. She is one of the few female CEOs to head up a major airline and when she took charge she said she was determined to transform Air France.  She says she has a clear agenda of what needs to be done.

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Air France is off to a turbulent start to 2020. Unions in France are in a standoff with the French government over pension reforms and are threatening walkouts and strikes. But no matter how it all plays out, Air France’s new CEO plans to tough it out and run the entire flight schedule as planned.

This tough response says a lot about Anne Rigail, who was tapped for the airline’s top job a year ago. She is one of the few female CEOs to head up a major airline and when she took charge she said she was determined to transform Air France.  She says she has a clear agenda of what needs to be done.

Air France is the number-one airline in France and together with its partner, KLM, it is one of the world’s largest carriers by revenue. But all is not well: it is not profitable, it has been losing customers to low-cost carriers and it has an aging fleet of planes.

“The first goal is to fix the fundamentals, the operational performance, punctuality, regularity. Simplify the fleet to be more economical and environmentally efficient,” Rigail says. “And we will have to tackle the efficiency of the organization. [Fewer] management layers.”

Already, Rigail has made big changes in modernizing Air France’s fleet. She is moving ahead with one of its biggest airplane orders in years, announcing the purchase of 10 new Airbus A350s. She also decided to phase out all of Air France’s massive Airbus 380 jumbo jets, saying they consume too much fuel and are no longer cost effective.

Rigail says these decisions are “totally critical” to her turnaround plans for Air France and especially for the airline’s goal of cutting carbon emissions by 50% by 2030.

In addition, Air France will add to its fleet of Boeing planes. One last 787 Dreamliner will be delivered in May. But Rigail notes that the grounding of the troubled Boeing 737-Max plane after the tragic crashes has brought fresh attention to safety issues.

“It’s an old lesson that safety comes with adapting to the new technologies and the behavior and the training,” she says. “We are focusing on our safety every day.”

Watch the video above for more.