Lufthansa plays down report about new chairman

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[December 17, 2015]  FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German airline Lufthansa played down a report that it could get a new chairman after Merck KGaA Chief Executive Karl-Ludwig Kley was quoted as saying he would take the job if it was offered to him.

Kley is to step down as chief executive of pharmaceutical company Merck in April. He is a former finance chief at Lufthansa and a current member of the supervisory board of an airline which has been hit by a series of strikes.

"Were I to be asked, it would be my honor to say yes," Manager Magazin cites Kley as saying in an excerpt of an article to be published on Friday, made available to Reuters on Thursday.

In response to the report, Lufthansa said in a written statement that Wolfgang Mayrhuber had been elected chairman until 2018.

"There are no intentions to change anything about that. Therefore there is no need to speculate about succession."

Manager Magazin cited Lufthansa sources as saying Mayrhuber will remain in office at least until 2017, though adding that there had previously been signals he might step down earlier for personal reasons.

Merck declined to comment.

Germany's largest airline is facing tough competition from Gulf operators including Emirates, Etihad and Qatar and low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet. That has resulted in drawn-out labor disputes with pilots and cabin crew over cost cutting measures.

The magazine cited Kley as saying he was fully aware that "to strengthen this icon of the German economy constitutes a tremendous task".

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Additional reporting by Klaus Lauer; Editing by Keith Weir)

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