CASE IN POINT | Air Namibia
by Samantha Barnes
Carrying the Spirit of Namibia
You need to be the best or striving towards that to succeed in business. Michell Fourie has accomplished much in her seven years with Air Namibia. Under her tenure the airline is attracting both regional and worldwide recognition for its performance.
Air Namibia received the Airports Company South Africa Feather award for Best Regional Airline for Oliver Tambo and Cape Town International Airports on an individual basis in 2014 as well as for the six years preceding. “We aim to achieve this again in 2015,” says Fourie. She acknowledges that schedule integrity and on-time performance is key in their market. Air Namibia has got it right. The airline has been voted among the top 10 on-time performance airlines in the world in recent months and has been voted first in Africa.
A Corporate Journey
Fourie’s exposure to the aviation industry started at Airports Company South Africa before moving to South African Airways in the mid-1990s. She moved into reservations, sales and marketing before landing a sales and marketing management position as country manager Zambia for Air Namibia in 2012. Fourie was based in Lusaka, an experience which she thoroughly enjoyed. “The ex-pat community there is so strong,” she says with a smile. In 2014, when Air Namibia decided to open its own commercial offices in South Africa, Fourie was appointed as commercial manager: sales and marketing and moved back to South Africa.
“During Air Namibia’s transformation towards opening offices, they required a person with a strong knowledge of the South African market who was qualified and experienced in all aspects of the commercial airline sector,” says Fourie. “Excellence is a personal expectation for me and is one of the principle motivators for me inside the industry. My personal management style is very structured, organised, transparent and assertive.” Michell met all the requirements for this new challenge, and opened two commercial offices for Air Namibia in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Leading Air Namibia
Air Namibia is certainly in good hands. Advocate Mandi Samson was appointed acting managing director earlier this year. She is ably qualified to fulfill her role. Samson holds numerous qualifications including a Master of Law in International Air and Space Law. She has consulted to the South African Development Community (SADC) and to the African Union on a range of issues relating to air transport in the region.
Comfort on All Flights
“I believe that giving quality is the best form of advertising,” says Fourie. “Our on-board product offers one of the biggest seat pitch in both business and economy class regionally in Africa assuring our clients comfort on all flights.” Each seat throughout the cabin of the airline’s ten aircraft has a mini console on the side of the arm rest. This includes a switch for a reading light, a button for attracting attention from a cabin attendant, a selector for choosing a radio or film channel and a volume control switch.
Besides comfort and reliability, Air Namibia recognises the value in providing great deals at certain times of the year and to certain categories of passengers. “We often promote special offers during low season to encourage people to travel and to benefit from great deals,” confirms Fourie. “Over and above low seasons, we also offer all-year-round discounts for senior citizens aged 60 years and over, as well as scholar and student discounts.”
Air Namibia has succeeded in winning over a loyal passenger base, which includes many dignatories and personalities who travel frequently with the airline. Being a government owned entity the airline often welcomes many government officials from Namibia and from the rest of the world.
“In May this year we even had royalty grace our flight,” says Fourie. “Prince Harry made quite a statement travelling in the back cabin on Air Namibia.” Prince Harry was on a three-month conservation trip to Africa and flew with Air Namibia in economy class.
Travelling with Air Namibia is a special experience, because of the way passengers are treated. “The Air Namibia slogan is ‘Carrying the Spirit of Namibia,’ which is evident to all our clients through the warmth and hospitality from our staff towards our clients.”
Air Namibia is an IOSA approved airline. IOTA stands for the IATA operational safety audit and needs to be done every two years. “Anyone who does not pass the audit, can no longer be a part of IATA. Air Namibia was the first African Airline to pass the new E-IOSA (or enhanced IOSA audit) which is much more stringent and looks at not only the procedures through documentation, but how they are put into practice,” explains Kate du Toit, general manager ground operations for Air Namibia. In August 2015, AQS declared the IOSA audit for Air Namibia closed.
Du Toit has 26 years’ experience in the aviation industry. She started her career in Aberdeen, Scotland, in the rotary wing (helicopters) sector before moving to fixed wings and to ground handling and the operation thereof in the late 1990s. She moved to Namibia in 2005 with Servisair; a ground handling company of note, based in the UK, who had a branch in Namibia at the time.
The business was sold in 2007, and du Toit opted to stay in Namibia and worked as a consultant in the industry until late 2010 when she joined Air Namibia. Originally based at Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek she moved to head office in 2013 to establish the Integrated Operational Control Centre for Air Namibia.
As a member of IATA it is imperative that the airline follows all maintenance programmes prescribed by the manufacturer of the aircraft. “To this end, Air Namibia maintains its own ERJ aircraft through our approved maintenance organisation,” says Fourie. “Our maintenance for the A319 aircraft and A330 aircraft is carried out by approved maintenance operations in line with requirements.” says Fourie. In addition, all maintenance procedures are regularly audited for compliance. The airline has 10 aircraft in its fleet which were put in service in the second half of 2013.
Growing Demand to visit Walvis Bay
Walvis Bay, Namibia has been experiencing good economic growth in recent years. This underpinned Air Namibia’s decision to reintroduce direct services to Walvis Bay on a daily basis from Cape Town and Johannesburg. “It’s a growing demand not only for the corporate market but also a great gateway into some spectacular tourist attractions in Namibia such as Swakopmund and the Skeleton Coast,” explains Fourie.
Serving Regional Markets
Air Namibia serves Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport. “Windhoek is our hub and from here Air Namibia connects all our domestic, regional and international flights,” says Fourie. The airline is positioned as a niche carrier serving domestic points within Namibia as well as the immediate regional markets of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia and Botswana.
The airline is a major player in the Namibian economy as well as regionally, employing approximately 680 staff. The Namibian tourism sector, in which the airline is aligned, is the third largest contributor to Namibia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Its contribution to GDP comes in the form of visitor expenditure and the airline’s own expenditure through procurement of goods and services, as well as related jobs created in resorts and supporting industries. Cargo is a very important part of the airline. “It’s an ever expanding and growing arm of our organisation,” confirms Fourie.
Africa is Not for Sissies
Africa is a continent presenting opportunities on the one hand and challenges on the other. The biggest challenges facing an airline operating in Africa involves costs and health issues. “Most countries in Africa are affected by the price of oil and of course US Dollar fluctuations,” explains Fourie. “Not only this, but diseases such as Ebola has a serious impact on travel within Africa and also to or from Africa to the rest of the world, which affects our economy.
“Planning and risk management are an important part of the airline industry for all carriers. In the case of outbreaks of diseases, our first priority is the safety of our staff and passengers, by closely working with government and relevant health institutes.”
Partnerships with Europe
With Namibia originating as a colony under German rule, it stands to reason that a strong relationship exists between people based in Germany seeking to travel to Namibia. “The biggest market inbound into Namibia currently is Germany,” says Fourie. “Air Namibia works closely with strategic partners in Europe to sustain demand.”
Concerning its outbound market Air Namibia serves the entire European network through Frankfurt. “From the SADC countries we serve, when traveling outbound to Europe from Frankfurt, we offer destinations throughout the whole of Europe with interline partnerships with strong carriers such as Lufthansa and British Airways,” explains Fourie.
The Asian Connection
With Africa seen as the continent of investment opportunities, we asked Air Namibia whether the airline has changed its marketing focus to include marketing from the East. The answer is a decided yes. “We have always maintained close working relationships with the Namibian government and High Commission of Namibia based in Asian countries to encourage investment and trade to Namibia,” says Fourie.
Air Namibia has gone one step further: offering their clients from Asia a route via Lusaka to Windhoek, instead of the traditional route via Johannesburg. The question is why? “This avoids the transit visa required by South Africa,” explains Fourie. Beside this, Air Namibia has strategically placed offices in Asia, its hub in Europe, Germany, throughout most other major countries in Europe, Russia and the USA.
Regardless of destination or reason for travelling, passengers with Air Namibia can rest assured in the knowledge that their safety, comfort and convenience is paramount to the airline. A really good reason to travel with Air Namibia!