The airline's current head, Mats Jansson, is set to leave on October 1, and Gustafson will take over "not later than March 2011," SAS said in a statement, adding that its deputy chief John Dueholm would in the meantime function as acting president and chief executive.
SAS, which has struggled with deep financial difficulties for years, last month announced Jansson's upcoming departure after four years at the helm of the airline.
"Rickard Gustafson is an experienced leader, with extensive international experience, who has demonstrated that he can generate good results," SAS chairman Fritz Schur said in the statement.
Gustafson himself meanwhile described the beleaguered airline as "a special and unique Scandinavian company."
Following the news, SAS saw its share price rise by 0.34 percent in noon trading on a slightly negative Stockholm stock exchange.
SAS, in which Norway, Denmark and Sweden together hold half the stock, has been hard-hit by the rise of low-cost airline Norwegian and by plunging passenger traffic numbers in the wake of the global economic crisis.
In the second quarter, the airline narrowed its losses but remained in the red largely due to the hammering it took during the weeks of European flight chaos caused by a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland.
Under Jansson, the Scandinavian airline launched a major restructuring plan last year, entailing thousands of layoffs and aimed at saving nearly eight billion kronor ($1.13 billion).