Air Canada Thursday announced the appointment of veteran American airline executive Hollis Harris as vice-chairman, president and chief executive officer.

The 60-year-old former chairman of both Delta Air Lines and Conti- nental in the United States, Mr. Harris assumes his new post with Canada's largest carrier at a critical period, analysts agree.The Canadian airline industry is facing restructur- ing amid heavy losses, negotiations are in progress for a new U.S.-Canada bilateral air transport agreement, and Air Canada itself is currently negotiating a strategic alliance with USAir Group Inc., of Arlington, Va.

"He will be involved with every big issue, including restructuring, the negotiations with USAir, the U.S.-Canada bilaterals, and our international expansion," Denis Couture, an Air Canada spokesman, told The Journal of Commerce.

Formerly president and chief operating officer at Delta Air Lines between 1987 and 1990, Mr. Harris joined Houston-based Continental Airlines in September 1990. Following a boardroom conflict, he left Continental to form his own aviation consulting firm, Air Eagle Holdings, located in Atlanta last October.

"There simply isn't a better qualified person to manage Air Canada," said Claude Taylor, the airline's chairman.

With 37 years of hands-on experience in the industry, Mr. Hollis has "a strong feel for customer service, the bottom line, operating efficiency and interests of our employees," Mr. Taylor said.

"He has managed two of North America's largest airlines in the world's toughest marketplace. Now he is bringing that expertise to Air Canada to build us into a major global competitor," he added.

Mr. Harris is filling a hole left by former Air Canada president Pierre Jeanniot, who resigned suddenly two years ago in a major fall-out with Mr. Taylor over the airline's strategic direction and drastic cost-cutting measures.

At one point, Air Canada was reported to have approached Donald Carty, executive vice president of Dallas-based American Airlines. Canadian-born Mr. Carty was once president (1985 to 1987) of Air Canada's chief rival, Canadian Pacific Air Lines Ltd., today called Canadian Airlines International.

In the first nine months of 1991, Air Canada showed a loss of US$108 million (C$126 million) on revenue of C$2.74 billion. This compared with a profit of C$50 million on revenue of C$3 billion in the corresponding period of 1990.

Analysts expect figures being released late Thursday for the full year would show total 1991 losses of close to C$200 million.

Air Canada's main rival, Canadian Airlines International, posted a loss of C$93 million on revenue of C$2.2 billion in the first three quarters of 1991.