Air France becomes first major airline to be led by female CEO

Air France made history on Wednesday by announcing that Anne Rigail will become the company’s next CEO — making her the first woman to lead a major airline.

Rigail currently serves as the company’s executive vice president for customers and has been with the French carrier for over 27 years, according to a statement.

She will replace acting CEO Benjamin Smith, who praised her appointment.

“Anne is a strong professional in the airline industry. Throughout her career, she has always paid particular attention to employees while implementing the many projects and transformations she has led, and placed the customer at the heart of everything she does,” Smith said.

Few women have been chosen to run large airlines, the Associated Press reported.

The U.K.-based discount airline EasyJet was run by a female CEO, Carolyn McCall, until March when she left the airline to lead British broadcaster ITV.

Her successor, Johan Lundgren, voluntarilyy took a nearly $50,000 pay cut to match what her previous salary was.

“This is driven not by unequal pay for women at easyJet but by the massive gender imbalance in our, and the aviation industry’s, pilot community,” the company said in a statement.

No major U.S. airlines has ever been led by a female CEO, AP noted.

Joanna Geraghty was named president and chief operating officer of JetBlue Airways in May — the number two position at the company. Tammy Romo is the chief financial officer at Southwest Airlines and Elise Eberwein is executive vice president at American Airlines.

Only 6 percent of current easyJet pilots are women and Lundgren said he hopes to boost the number to 20 percent by 2020.

The International Transport Association has vowed to tackle the issue of gender inequality, AP reported.

The association’s new president, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, apologized earlier this year after suggesting that men had to be in leadership positions at airlines.

“Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position,” he said during news conference.

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