Flybe Picks Ex-EasyJet Exec Hammad to Succeed French as CEO

Flybe Group Plc, Europe’s largest independent regional airline, said Saad Hammad will succeed Jim French as chief executive officer, handing the former EasyJet Plc executive the task of reviving profitability.

Hammad, chief commercial officer at EasyJet for 3 1/2 years through April 2009, takes over on Aug. 1, with French retaining his role as chairman, Flybe said today. The 50-year-old was a director at Air Berlin for about a year until October 2012 and is now managing director at private equity firm Gores Group.

Flybe, also Britain’s biggest domestic airline, is seeking to bolster its balance sheet amid reduced demand and high fuel prices. Steps taken by the Exeter, England-based company so far include the sale of operating slots at London Gatwick airport to EasyJet for 20 million pounds ($30 million), delaying regional jet deliveries from Embraer SA, and the renegotiating pilot pay.

“Hammad’s previous experience of turnaround situations and his track record at EasyJet should prove especially useful,” London-based Espirito Santo analyst Gerald Khoo said in a note. “Although Flybe’s cost restructuring program is well defined and making good progress, we sense that the next stage of its recovery will have a greater focus on revenue enhancement.”

Share Gain

Flybe rose as much as 9.7 percent to 51 pence and was trading at that price as of 10:05 a.m. in London, making the stock unchanged for the year and valuing the company at 38.3 million pounds ($58 million).

EasyJet, Europe’s second-biggest discount carrier, employs a different business model, using full-sized short-haul airliners serving bigger population centers and has advanced 72 percent this year for a value of 5.2 billion pounds.

“Flybe is making excellent progress on its turnaround plan,” Hammad said in a statement from the company, adding that the business is “once again ‘fit to compete.’”

Flybe’s adjusted pretax loss in the 12 months through March tripled to 23.2 million pounds from a year earlier, the company said, even as sales rose 15 percent to 782 million pounds.

French, who joined the airline when it was known as Jersey European in 1990 and became CEO in 2001, by which time it had been renamed British European, turns 60 tomorrow.

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