Safair: Managing soaring ambitions

A lot has happened in the aviation industry over the past 50 years but sadly the need for Humanitarian food Aid in war torn or famine hit parts of the world remains as emotive as ever.
Over that period of time, when major organisations like the United Nations, World Food and the Red Cross have sought reliable aircraft to help facilitate relief and aid work, they have often turned to Safair.

The company is affiliated to ASL Aviation Group Limited, is based at O.R. Tambo International Airport and celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015 and has established a truly global reputation.

plane fore g reflect hrDave Andrew can call upon over 30 years of experience within the aviation industry, encompassing aircraft maintenance, technical planning and commercial operations. He joined Safair back in 1990 and left in the mid 2000s, before rejoining at CEO in 2010:
“We have always been a contract operation offering ACMI Aservices and we operate one of the world’s largest fleets of civil Lockheed L-100 Hercules cargo aircraft,” he describes.
Additionally Safair conducts aircraft chartering; leasing and sales; contract operations; flight crew leasing and training; its own aircraft maintenance and operations support.
“We offer lots of chartered services but we are much more focused on the contractor business. We lease the aircraft and at present we operate a fleet of 6 Hercules and six B737s. Essentially our business has remained the same although over the years we have tried a number of different initiatives; for example for a while we offered scheduled cargo services within South Africa and also operated a third party maintenance facility. However our main concentration has remained the operation of the aircraft and the provision of specialized aviation services,” says Andrew.

Safair is in the midst of launching another major initiative which is very imminent. However in the meantime, the company’s traditional business remains busy and varied, with flights to famine-stricken Republic of South Sudan a current focal point and annual operations to Antarctica for the Italian Government.
“Our fleet has remained fairly constant for the past 4 or 5 years although things were a little quiet in 2012/13, we had done quite a bit of work in Afghanistan but that ceased around that time. Things have picked up this year and unfortunately where there is strife and chaos we are called upon. We are busy in Republic of South Sudan currently but the whole East and Central Africa region is pretty active at the moment,” Andrew explains.

Globally he says, there is plenty of competition in the aid and relief field – however he believes that the availability of the Hercules aircraft and the specialized capabilities of these aircraft give Safair a significant edge.

Quality also plays an important role in the eyes of major global customers, from the levels of service to the thorough precision of maintenance and aircraft route planning. In the light of the tragic recent events in Ukraine, route planning has become a much highlighted topic although Andrew says that Safair’s journeys are made with added caution:
“If you are talking about chartered flying there can be a lot more involvement in planning a route but for regular flights this becomes easier. One of the benefits of working for large organisations is that they usually have very good intelligence on the ground in regions we are flying to and up to now I am very pleased to report that we have never had an incident although we are always wary and safety of our personnel and assets are of major importance.”

Safair has also developed a strong reputation for the quality of its operations in other areas and is an IATA-affiliated company and was one of the first to gain IOSA accreditation. Additionally Safair is a member of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA).

“We have our own in-house Quality Department and subscribe fully to the safety management system requirements both from a domestic and international regulation perspective,” declares Andrew. “We also operate our own Approved Maintenance Organisation (AMO); maintenance is very important within the industry from a reliability point of view, particularly when we are so geographically challenged in terms of where we fly to. We have around 60 people working within our engineering, planning and QA area and we operate a big facility here in Kempton Park for our local maintenance requirements, although the heavier maintenance takes place at international approved facilities closer to where the aircraft are operating we also deploy 2-3 technicians per plane to take care of the daily maintenance requirements,” he adds.

The company website emphasizes the dedication of Safair’s employees to details: “Safair’s dedication to excellence has been fostered by our years of expertise and experience in providing leasing, maintenance, special operations, chartering and training services. All of our staff, from pilots and crew to leasing professionals and maintenance technicians, understand the importance of ensuring that our passion for excellence is built in to everything we do on behalf of our customers.”

Back in 2010, South Africa played host to the Fifa World Cup and Safair had the pleasure of transporting the Brazilian national football team to Zimbabwe and Tanzania for their warm-up games. At the time of writing, Andrew is turning his thoughts towards transporting normal civilians as Safair prepares for the imminent launch of FlySafair, its new low-cost airline, having already made significant investments in this new operation.

“Towards the end of 2011 one of the then low cost airlines, 1time, failed leaving an opening within the low cost airline market. As we have done pretty much everything else in our history and we had most of the required resources availablewe felt that this presented an opportunity for Safair and our first flights will operate from the middle of October,” states Andrew.

“We will initially be operating two B737 400s out of Cape Town and there will be 4 scheduled flights a day to Johannesburg and 4 to George Airport and Port Elizabeth.
“It has been quite a road to get licensed and to prepare for the launch of our commercial airline and we had to restructure the business to attain the appropriate level of BEEE rating (currently Safair operates at Level 5).

“We have created 80 new jobs and undertaken quite a lot of training of new cabin crew and commercial staff. But there has also been lots of new activity for us like creating a customer website, organising a reservations system and running an extensive marketing campaign with advertisements on billboards, television, radio and in the newspapers,” he continues.
Andrew says that 4 weeks since the launch of FlySafair’s all e-ticketing system, customer feedback has been good with fair success on ticket sales.

“We operate a typical low-cost model through the website and we hope that in time FlySafair will start to contribute significantly to our overall revenue streams. In many ways we see Africa as the last great hunting ground for the low cost model which has worked well elsewhere in the world and is very much needed in Africa.

“Long-term we would like to look at more regional flights and inter-African routes but our focus right now is to get FlySafair in the air where it belongs,” he concludes.