Q & A In­ter­views

The cur­rent po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty in South Africa is pro­pel­ling com­pa­nies like Co­mair Flight Ser­vices, an air char­ter provider, to ex­pand out­side of the coun­try. Justin Reeves, CEO of CFS, pro­vides more in­sight into the state of the pri­vate avi­a­tion in­dus

Business Traveller (Africa) - - CONTENTS - Justin Reeves CEO: Co­mair Flight Ser­vices

• Justin Reeves – CFS

• Oliver By­ers – Vir­gin At­lantic

Q: What are your thoughts on the over­all state of the African pri­vate avi­a­tion in­dus­try?

A: Africa is prob­a­bly pre­sent­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties than South Africa it­self. CFS is al­ways look­ing at growth op­por­tu­ni­ties and Africa presents us with the most ex­cit­ing prospects at the mo­ment. SA, on the other hand, seems to have reached a plateau that will likely take years to show the op­por­tu­ni­ties for sub­stan­tial growth again. That is if the South African govern­ment can give both lo­cal and foreign in­vestors cer­tainty on the fu­ture of our econ­omy, which is prov­ing rather dif­fi­cult with no clear plan on what will hap­pen with the land rights is­sues.

Q: What’s your view on frac­tional own­er­ship in the pri­vate avi­a­tion space?

A: I find the con­cept very in­ter­est­ing. It will con­tinue to change the way we view own­er­ship. As the younger gen­er­a­tions start to ac­cu­mu­late wealth they will be­gin to have a larger im­pact on air­craft sales trends. As with full own­er­ship how­ever, frac­tional own­er­ship does still re­quire con­fi­dence in prop­erty rights.

Q: Does CFS have a mo­bile book­ing tool?

A: Not yet. Our man­age­ment team em­braces and adopts new tech­nolo­gies very eas­ily, so we're con­stantly as­sess­ing new prod­ucts to see what could make us more ef­fi­cient and re­spon­sive, but pri­vate char­ter can have very com­plex cost­ing mod­els, mak­ing it chal­leng­ing to au­to­mate. We've we've not yet found an off-theshelf so­lu­tion that meets all our re­quire­ments and the high costs of de­vel­op­ing cus­tomised soft­ware isn't vi­able for us at this time.

Q: How is CFS, gen­er­ally, us­ing tech­nol­ogy to bet­ter serve its clients?

A: All our flights have live satel­lite track­ing de­vices on board which gives real-time in­for­ma­tion. We have soft­ware to op­ti­mise fuel spend to save on fuel costs. We have also in­te­grated a new app with our flight man­age­ment sys­tem which gives us in­stant mes­sag­ing, con­fer­ence calls, di­rect mes­sag­ing and more, specif­i­cally re­lat­ing to each flight.

Q: Do you have a view on how mil­len­nial trav­ellers might ap­proach pri­vate avi­a­tion in the fu­ture, and do you have any ex­ist­ing in­sight into their travel habits?

A: In pri­vate avi­a­tion we've had the lux­ury of see­ing gen­er­a­tional trends form­ing long be­fore it starts af­fect­ing our in­dus­try, be­cause pri­vate char­ter has his­tor­i­cally been re­served for older gen­er­a­tions that have ac­cu­mu­lated wealth. How­ever, if you ac­cept that mil­len­ni­als are more in­ter­ested in the ex­pe­ri­ence than own­er­ship, then we get back to the pos­si­bil­i­ties of shared or frac­tional own­er­ship.

Q: What’s cur­rently pop­u­lar, in terms of air­craft in de­mand for dif­fer­ent groups sizes?

A: We've re­cently noted a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in jet flights com­pared to tur­bo­props. Jets are typ­i­cally used by cor­po­rates for busi­ness pur­poses and longer dis­tances, whereas tur­bo­props are more of­ten used for leisure pur­poses. More clients are re­quest­ing jets for leisure pur­poses and stay­ing in re­sorts and lodges nearer to large in­ter­na­tional air­ports.

Q: Do you have a loy­alty pro­gramme and do you see value in of­fer­ing this to cus­tomers?

A: This ques­tion comes at an in­ter­est­ing time, as we've re­cently started dis­cussing how we can re­ward our clients for their loyal sup­port in a way that will truly ap­peal to them. We need to think out the box as there doesn't seem to be a one-size-fits-all so­lu­tion to a loy­alty/re­wards pro­gramme for air needs. Q: In terms of African travel ‘hotspots’, where are you see­ing the most ac­tiv­ity?

A: This is in­flu­enced by the type of air­craft fleet in op­er­a­tion. Each cat­e­gory of air­craft is suited to a flight pro­file, so our very di­verse fleet of­fer a wide range of op­tions. Our tur­bo­props are es­pe­cially busy this time of year mov­ing pas­sen­gers on sa­fari be­tween pri­vate game lodges. We have seen a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in flights to Zim­babwe since the re­cent po­lit­i­cal changes there; Vic­to­ria Falls has been added to many leisure itin­er­ar­ies.

Q: Are you see­ing any in­ter­est­ing re­quests, in terms of on board prod­ucts?

A: The most note­wor­thy change is the num­ber of spe­cial cater­ing re­quire­ments. Pre­vi­ously there wasn't nearly as much in­for­ma­tion freely avail­able about what we eat, so we see some lengthy re­quests for groups about who does and doesn't eat gluten, nuts, dairy, meat, fish, sugar, fruit and so on.

Q: What im­pact has the rise in fuel price had on your busi­ness? A: This has nat­u­rally not been good for busi­ness, es­pe­cially not our lo­cal clients. For our foreign clients the de­pre­ci­a­tion of the Rand has in some cases re­duced the cost of char­ter­ing in SA and this has to some ex­tent helped to off­set the losses in the lo­cal mar­ket. We've be­come used to vo­latile oil prices and ex­change rates and have learned a few tricks over the years on how to deal with it. But ul­ti­mately ris­ing costs will al­ways af­fect prof­its neg­a­tively in some way.

Q: Where would you like to see CFS in 10 years’ time?

A: As a share­holder, hope­fully CFS will be one of my great in­vest­ments and no longer a job. Co­mair is a very strong brand and I see the CFS group ex­pand­ing into new ter­ri­to­ries in the not too dis­tant fu­ture. ■

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