The man behind Comair
This is a man who does not like to sit still. Continually on the go, he nonetheless prefers the term ‘ productaholic’ to ‘workaholic’.
Father to two girls, one in primary the other in high school, Venter reflects on his school days. School back then was not as pressured as it is today, he says. “You kind of went to school, enjoyed yourself and didn’t worry that much about the future,” chuckles Venter. Growing up in Somerset West, he went on to study a BCom (CA) at the University of Cape Town.
Like most boys, he was interested in aircraft but didn’t consider moving into aviation. Getting into the industry − which his father unwittingly had a hand in − was “a lucky fortune”, he says.
Venter is a man who does not count sport among his passions. He is more into hands-on stuff like restoring cars and building furniture, enjoying the sweat equity put in by creating things with his hands. Having restored a Porsche 928 by building a completely new body, Venter is currently restoring the iconic pony car, a 1967 Mustang.
“I also restore motorbikes or whatever else I can get my hands on,” he says. In-between restoring cars, he tries to make time for furniture building. You would think there might be a woodworking background. But no, merely the desire to build something. “It started with a coffee table, then sideboard and Gibson chairs and has evolved from there.” they should easily stay in service for 15 to 20 years. The benefits of ownership increase over time if you are going to be operating an aircraft for that long.”
But operators need to be cash f lush to buy aircraft. “You have to put down a minimum of 15% of the aircraft’s value in cash, and on a $50m plane you are talking big amounts. Then you have to generate enough cash just to fund the purchase and repay the capital. We couldn’t own our entire f leet; we just don’t have that kind of balance sheet, but we are certainly pushing to own as much as we can,” he says.
It’s not that diff icult to see why. Besides residual value, aircraft are a natural hedge because they are valued in dollars. Owning also allows the f lexibility of selling, upgrading or leasing out the aircraft.
“The ongoing upgrades to our f leet remain the best solution to the expected recovery in the fuel price, while also providing an i mproved customer proposition, and along with improved, technology-driven operating processes, will ensure that we maintain a healthy lead over our competitors,” says Venter.
Ancillary services that includes travel business, f light training, catering, airport lounges and travel insurance, represented around 5% of revenue, more than doubling the 2% posted last year. It’s an area that Venter believes will keep growing quite rapidly.
The f lexibility and quick thinking that Venter attributes to the company’s ongoing success will probably stand the business in good stead in the upcoming period. Company performance rests on a number of factors outside of its control, mostly in the shape of the oil price and the exchange rate, and new competitors entering the market will also impact revenue. Passenger volumes too are unlikely to increase in the near term.
“It’s a very volatile situation. There are many variables in the next si x months and it is very hard to predict where it will all end up,” concludes Venter.