Many in the airline industry saw this coming: Long-time KLM CEO Pieter Elbers will not serve a third term at the top of the Dutch carrier, stepping down next May. The marriage between KLM and Air France has been rocky recently, as the Dutch airline has outperformed its French partner, and Elbers’ departure only fuels speculation that resentment in Paris led to the decision.
Pieter Elbers, the chief executive of KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, will not serve a third term, the company said on Thursday.
Elbers, 51, is a 30-year veteran of the company who oversaw restructurings at KLM before and during the coronavirus pandemic. The company said he will step down as of May 1, 2023.
KLM has been part of the Air France-KLM group since 2004, but relations between the Dutch subsidiary and its French-dominated parent have been strained in recent years by KLM’s relatively stronger financial performance.
“The Air France-KLM Board of Directors has approved that the Supervisory Board of KLM, after close consultation with CEO Pieter Elbers, has established that (he) will not enter into a third term,” the company said in a statement on the group website.
Air France CEO Ben Smith and Chairwoman Anne-Marie Couderc thanked Elbers for his service.
In a separate statement on KLM’s website, Elbers said he was proud of his time at the company and would continue to “support KLM in this transition toward new leadership.”
In 2019, the Dutch state purchased a 14% stake in Air France-KLM in a surprise move it said it hoped would help it gain more influence and protect the Netherlands’ interests in the company.
Elbers is known as a strong advocate for KLM interests within the group, but has always rejected the idea – sometimes mooted by Dutch politicians – that KLM should split from the group.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling Editing by Susan Fenton and Mark Potter)