Flybe boss Jim French steps down

FlyBe's Jim French is to step down. Picture: PA
FlyBe's Jim French is to step down. Picture: PA
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JIM French, the Scots-born boss chief executive of regional airline Flybe, is to hand over the controls to former EasyJet chief commercial officer Saad Hammad, after his cost-cutting drive began to turn around the loss-making carrier.

French, who will stay with the airline as its non-executive chairman, will vacate the pilot’s seat on 1 August after 12 years in the top job and 23 years in total with the carrier.

Hammad, who worked at rival EasyJet between 2005 and 2009, is currently managing director at private equity firm Gores Group.

He has also previously served as a non-executive director at Air Berlin, the second-largest airline in Germany.

Last month Flybe nose-dived to a £40.7 million loss following a dip in passengers numbers.

The airline had announced in November it was launching a search for a new chief executive but French stayed on to launch a £50m cost-cutting drive, which reassured the City and triggered a rise in the airline’s share price.

His cost cuts have included slashing more than 20 per cent of Flybe’s workforce and reducing pilot pay by up to 5 per cent.

French said: “We are delighted to welcome Saad to Flybe. He brings with him a wealth of industry experience.”

Hammad added: “Flybe is making excellent progress on its turnaround plan. The business is once again ‘fit to compete’.”

His appointment was welcomed in the City. Espírito Santo analyst Gerald Khoo said: “Hammad’s previous experience of turnaround situations and his track record at EasyJet should prove especially useful in his new role.”

Andrew Lobbenberg, an analyst at HSBC, pointed out: “At its 2013 results, the company said its focus was now on being more commercial, notably looking to drive stronger revenues, with its current 62 per cent load factor seeming an obvious opportunity.

“It thus seems logical to appoint a commercial guy to the chief executive’s role.

“Given Jim French’s historic strong position in the business, and his new role as non-executive chairman, the personal chemistry between the two of them will be critical.”