Air France chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon resigned Monday and was replaced by Alexandre de Juniac in a shake-up the group said was necessary to improve its "operating and financial performance."
Gourgeon had also served as the CEO of Air France-KLM holding company and will be replaced in that role by Jean-Cyril Spinetta _ the chairman of the group's board of directors, who had formerly held the group's top position, Air France-KLM said in a statement.
The announcement came after an unscheduled board meeting Monday and amid media reports that Gourgeon would be replaced. The 65-year-old assumed his dual role as CEO at the start of 2009 and was given a new four-year mandate in July.
The statement provided no details about Juniac, but a report on the website of Le Monde daily said he had worked for former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who now heads the International Monetary Fund.
Spinetta is a longtime veteran of Air France, where he served as CEO of the airline as well as heading up the holding company. He is also chairman of the supervisory board of French nuclear giant Areva.
The aim of the changes "is to improve the group's operating and financial performance in a context of economic uncertainties affecting the European air traffic," the statement said.
"In the current economic context, top priority must be given to the recovery and improvement of the performance of Air France and of KLM, which must ... better address these challenges."
In May, Air France-KLM reported it returned to profit in its latest fiscal year, making a euro613 million ($872 million) net profit for the 12 months ending March 31.
By contrast, the airline had reported a euro1.6 billion net loss a year earlier, when the global economic crisis hammered freight and passenger traffic.
Still, Europe's largest airline by passengers warned in the May statement that "uncertainties" including the long term impact of Japan's earthquake, crises in the Middle East and Africa and elevated fuel prices could weigh on its performance this year.
The fallout from the June 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris has also continued to cast a pall over the carrier.
In March, a French judge filed preliminary manslaughter charges against Air France and jet manufacturer Airbus in connection with the crash, which killed 228 people and was the worst in Air France's history.
Monday's statement praised Gourgeon for his contribution during the troubled time for the airline, saying the board of directors had "paid tribute to the action that he took with courage and to the numerous measures efficiently implemented within difficult conditions since he took up his duties."
(This version CORRECTS Corrects to show Spinetta, not Juniac, replacing Gourgeon as CEO of Air France-KLM holding company, adds more details.)