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In airline-business rarity, Air France picks a woman CEO

Air France is putting a woman in charge of the airline, a first for the French carrier and a rarity in the male-dominated industry.

Air France’s parent company said Wednesday that Anne Rigail will take charge of the airline on Monday. She is currently executive vice-president.

The airline has been led on an interim basis by Benjamin Smith, an Air Canada veteran who was hired this year as CEO of parent Air France-KLM Group.

Air France faces contentious wage negotiations with pilots and flight attendants and has been hit by a series of damaging strikes.

Rigail, a 27-year veteran of the airline, says she is extremely honoured by the promotion. Smith says Rigail has always paid special attention to employees, and he expresses confidence that the airline can meet its challenges.

An Air France spokeswoman confirmed that Rigail is the first female CEO in the airline’s history, which dates to the 1933 merger of five French carriers.

Women have led other large airlines. Carolyn McCall was CEO of British low-cost carrier EasyJet for seven years until leaving this year to run British broadcaster ITV. But in recent years, only about 5 per cent of all airline CEOs were women, mostly in developing countries.

The Associated Press