Get the ba­sics right or re-ex­am­ine SAA’s model

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Javed Ma­lik

MANY South Africans are forced to be­lieve that tur­bu­lence and un­cer­tainty in our avi­a­tion sec­tor are caused by gov­ern­ment car­ri­ers. That is not true. There is much more be­hind it. We need to get the ba­sics done right or re-ex­am­ine the foun­da­tion that our avi­a­tion sec­tor is mod­elled on.

Also, our avi­a­tion in­dus­try such as hangars and rental spa­ces are un­der the con­trol or be­ing run by one group or the same peo­ple. This is com­pletely against the trans­for­ma­tion that the ma­jor­ity want, which is the trans­for­ma­tion that will give rea­son­able space at our air­ports to new black en­trepreneurs if we want to make gen­uine eco­nomic ad­vance­ment.

I be­lieve and un­der­stand that for any sin­gle air­line to make it in the South African do­mes­tic mar­ket it should have good ex­pe­ri­ence, ex­per­tise and knowl­edge of the in­dus­try. The air­line that I once co-owned, and oth­ers be­fore us, pos­sessed that.

But still, why has re­cur­ring tur­bu­lence been a ma­jor part of the do­mes­tic air­line in­dus­try?

Play­ing field

In a nor­mal world, the me­dia should be ask­ing th­ese ques­tions, which leaves me to con­clude that the play­ing field is not level for ev­ery­one to sur­vive, en­joy the same kind of suc­cess or com­pete fairly.

In the re­cent past I have been writ­ing with great pain, warn­ing the South African avi­a­tion in­dus­try that tur­bu­lence will oc­cur if we do not look into cer­tain things raised by col­leagues con­cern­ing the in­dus­try.

As a re­sult, I have specif­i­cally pointed out that our avi­a­tion sec­tor will con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence new air­lines strug­gling to es­tab­lish and grow their brands or may not be­come suc­cess­ful air­lines, no mat­ter how much ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge one has or no mat­ter the mod­ern air­craft one may fly.

Based on the above it seems there is no for­mula for suc­cess in avi­a­tion.

I be­lieve that we need to lis­ten to the con­cerns raised by oth­ers, es­pe­cially the ma­jor­ity, as we seek to grow the South African avi­a­tion in­dus­try and thus the gen­eral travel and tourism in­dus­try.

As a per­son who has had an op­por­tu­nity to work and in­ter­act with the avi­a­tion in­dus­try at large, and what we have gone through in the past as air­line own­ers, as well as pre­sent­ing pa­pers at var­i­ous avi­a­tion fo­rums, I can speak with deeper knowl­edge, first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence and with the view of a big­ger pic­ture.

The way I see it, it is easy to see how our avi­a­tion sec­tor has been in such an un­healthy state due to pos­si­bil­i­ties of tur­bu­lence in some air­lines, but which are man-made rather than nat­u­ral.

Sev­eral fac­tors could be at­trib­uted to the above and my ob­ser­va­tion is that there is at play neg­a­tive forces and hos­tile busi­nesses that make it dif­fi­cult for new en­tries in the lo­cal avi­a­tion sec­tor to sur­vive.

On a broader scale, I have ob­served that there is no fair prac­tice at all in the sec­tor, and this is wors­ened by favouritism, as well as an un­even play­ing field de­signed to make it look un­pro­duc­tive and not worth­while for new play­ers.

The avi­a­tion in­dus­try is unique by its na­ture of be­ing among the few where one has to un­dergo stren­u­ous test and stan­dards to be li­censed.

The gov­ern­ment is do­ing all it can to bring nor­malcy to a sec­tor that is so im­por­tant for job cre­ation and eco­nomic growth.

But at the same time one quickly no­tices how some state-owned en­ter­prises (SOE) such as Acsa (Air­ports Com­pany of South Africa) are clearly not do­ing enough.

The duty of this or­gan­i­sa­tion is to look af­ter the growth of the avi­a­tion in­dus­try. How­ever, some in­di­vid­u­als within it have de­vel­oped a pas­sion for favour­ing the same peo­ple or cer­tain in­sti­tu­tions in the South African do­mes­tic avi­a­tion in­dus­try.

The same in­di­vid­u­als, in my view, in­flu­ence their or­gan­i­sa­tion to give op­por­tu­ni­ties to the same groups of peo­ple, in­stead of con­sid­er­ing new play­ers.

How­ever, this SOE has also failed in one of the key do­mes­tic avi­a­tion in­dus­try sec­tors of air­port hangars and re­tail spa­ces, which in my view have the po­ten­tial to add to the over­all util­ity of our air­ports, es­pe­cially with black busi­ness­peo­ple in own­er­ship of some of th­ese fa­cil­i­ties.

In this in­stance, it has failed to bring about rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion. In a way it is gen­er­ally work­ing against the in­ter­ests of the gov­ern­ment’s calls and those of the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple. It has prac­tised favouritism to the detri­ment of broader do­mes­tic avi­a­tion in­ter­ests.

I strongly rec­om­mend that Acsa should have a chief ex­ec­u­tive with a back­ground in avi­a­tion who un­der­stands air­line is­sues and can play a key role in bring­ing more in­dus­try growth. Also, some­one who is a good com­mu­ni­ca­tor as this helps in deal­ing with key de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses down the line and in the in­dus­try.

Young blood

Another fac­tor needed in the South African do­mes­tic avi­a­tion in­dus­try is the need for more young blood and skills trans­fer, which not only must be sup­ported to thrive, but must also an­swer to the needs of those in the broader so­ci­ety who feel ne­glected.

There is also the need to raise and sup­port young pi­lots and air­line man­age­ment ex­ec­u­tives for our avi­a­tion sec­tor.

If the in­dus­try can have pro­grammes to train air hostesses, cabin crews and ground staff, why is there a scarcity of train­ing for a new breed of pi­lots and giv­ing them hours, blacks in par­tic­u­lar?

I will keep on rais­ing my hand wher­ever I see some­thing go­ing wrong. And I have a prob­lem with self-made avi­a­tion “ex­perts” who take it upon them­selves to drive the fu­ture of lo­cal avi­a­tion. Avi­a­tion is a unique in­dus­try. I al­ways de­bate that no mat­ter how many years you spend watch­ing soc­cer, this doesn’t mean you can be a soc­cer player.

The big is­sue, for me, is that all the air­ports, hangars and air­port spa­ces owned by the same group of peo­ple do not rep­re­sent trans­for­ma­tion. It sim­ply means that there is no space for oth­ers in the ma­jor­ity.

How long are we go­ing to be so blind to al­low this to hap­pen? Mak­ing things worse are fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions part­ner­ing th­ese ven­tures and, in my view, this is col­lu­sion.

This is be­cause when new­com­ers, most of­ten not well-con­nected, en­ter the avi­a­tion sec­tor and seek as­sis­tance from banks, they are not given at­ten­tion as the fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions dis­like sup­port­ing com­pa­nies that will com­pete with their in­ter­ests.

We need strong lead­er­ship in our do­mes­tic avi­a­tion in­dus­try to bring about the real change we want, to clean up the mess and build a bet­ter work­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Tra­di­tional lead­er­ship will not work in this big mess. We need fear­less lead­er­ship that can stand up against all odds and that doesn’t care about re­port cards to make un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions in favour of do­mes­tic avi­a­tion. In my view, in­dustyr lead­ers al­ways worry about their ca­reers or the next big job.

Con­sul­tants

This group of ex­perts is not be­ing ef­fec­tive, in my view, when it comes to the last­ing sur­vival of new play­ers who may have en­tered the do­mes­tic avi­a­tion space. It is like their value is not be­ing felt and, as a re­sult ,not worth the weight they seem to have.

I have ex­pe­ri­enced that th­ese so-called con­sul­tants are fail­ing to of­fer sus­tain­able di­rec­tion that can take the South African avi­a­tion in­dus­try with new play­ers for­ward and be suc­cess­ful.

It seems the in­put and im­pact of th­ese con­sul­tants are far from be­com­ing a re­al­ity. In short, they are not ef­fec­tive.

South Africa’s do­mes­tic avi­a­tion sec­tor is be­ing hi­jacked by one group of peo­ple. And no­body is rais­ing a voice against this trend, which is not good for broader growth in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try. Javed Ma­lik is the former chair­per­son of Sky­wise Air­lines and chair­per­son of PAK Africa Avi­a­tion.

PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

State-owned car­rier South African Air­ways’ do­mes­tic avi­a­tion sec­tor is be­ing hi­jacked by one group of peo­ple, the writer says.

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