The French state does not plan to sell its 14.3% stake in Air France-KLM, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told franceinfo after the new CEO Benjamin Smith had warned that the government would not support Air France if it was not turned around.

"Today the priority is to turn around Air France (AF, Paris CDG). Selling off the state's stake in Air France is not part of Benjamin Smith's action plan. It is not an option on the table today," Le Maire said.

Earlier, the Financial Times quoted Smith as telling the labour unions at the carrier that the state would not bail the airline out and was even considering selling its stake. The Canadian executive, the first ever non-French head of Air France-KLM or Air France, also said that the government would not recapitalise the airline.

Agefi-Dow Jones later reported that the new CEO was "misunderstood" and he never explicitly said that the French government was prepared to divest from Air France-KLM.

Air France-KLM has been struggling with labour protests for a number of years, with the vast majority of them affecting the French airline. It lost EUR335 million euros (USD388 million) in the first half of 2018 alone due to protests. The unions have also vehemently opposed the appointment of Smith as a non-Frenchman. The previous CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac quit in May 2018 after the unions had refused to compromise on new employment terms.

Besides the French state, other major shareholders in Air France-KLM include Delta Air Lines and China Eastern Airlines with an 8.8% stake each, and employees with a 3.9% stake.