Ever-evolving as an organization, to meet the demands of the SADC markets and the African and international aviation spaces, the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) recently appointed Zimbabwean born Aaron Munetsi as the new CEO. The leading African aviation veteran, in this exclusive interview with our Editor, Martin Chemhere, has more insights on what he brings and intends to do with advancing the objectives of the regional organization.
Nomad Africa: Belated congratulations for your appointment as AASA CEO, tell us how you felt at the time?
Aaron Munetsi: I was excited to be appointed as the Airlines Association of Southern Africa’s CEO. AASA represents the airline industry throughout the SADC region and on behalf of its members, engages with infrastructure and services providers, regulators, policy makers and other role players in all of those countries. As my appointment coincided with the industry being at its most fragile and with an urgent need to stabilize and recover following the COVID-19 pandemic, I literally had to hit the ground running.
Nomad Africa: You came into the organisation with vast professional aviation experience and networks around Africa, how important has that been so far?
Aaron Munetsi: Professionalism together with access to the widest array of industry and government contacts is essential if one wants to solve the problems and overcome the challenges our industry faces locally, regionally and globally. Because aviation is an all-encompassing microcosm of society, there is no start or finish to who gets involved or is impacted by aviation. By its very nature, scope and scale, air transport is a powerful catalyst for social and economic development and growth. Therefore networking is a critical success factor. My networking skills have enabled me to quickly liaise and solicit collaboration with stakeholders right across the industry and beyond and I am grateful for the welcome and support I have received from my industry colleagues.
Nomad Africa: What key takeaways did you take along with you from your previous stints elsewhere in the industry?
Aaron Munetsi: Having lived and worked in many countries on the continent and in the Middle East, the most important takeaway was that “no person is an island”. A leader must enable the team to be the best that they can be by supporting them. Aviation is dynamic and as such one must be able to actively engage with other professionals and seek collaborative engagements for all parties’ mutual benefit.
Nomad Africa: How has it been so far at the helm of an association like AASA and what changes have you brought in?
Aaron Munetsi: Being at AASA has been very rewarding in that it was akin to a home-coming for me. I had been involved in African aviation matters at a continent-wide level and it is helpful in being able to apply some of that experience in my new environment. Change is inevitable but it must be managed so that it doesn’t become detrimentally disruptive. Because our overall industry context changed so dramatically over the past two years, it is vital that an industry representative body such as AASA is able to continually take soundings from its members and ensure that its work is aligned with and reflects their realities and priorities. A central aspiration we have is to nurture a data culture. Not only do we need to collect accurate and relevant information, but AASA can enhance its capabilities by enabling its members to analyze the data to make informed and intelligent decisions.
Nomad Africa: How is it taking over from Wrenelle Stander?
Aaron Munetsi: She has held various industry and government positions and served AASA in ex-officio roles. I couldn’t have asked for better help with the preparation during the handover and she is also available to share her knowledge with me. I have also known former AASA CEO Chris Zweigenthal who was replaced by Ms Stander, for more than 30 years and I am able to reach out and consult him whenever I need to. These are prime examples of effective networking being critical to success. As the saying goes; “it’s not just what you know, but who you know!”
Nomad Africa: Tell us what your major KPIs are from the start of your tenure?
Aaron Munetsi: AASA is focused on ensuring that its members do not just survive COVID-19’s adverse impact, but to help establish an environment in which they will thrive in the medium to long term. Our KPIs are:
- The total restart of air travel throughout the region
- Ensuring the safe and total re-opening of borders
- The regional adoption of harmonized COVID-19 (pandemic) protocols
- Cost containment
- Total opening of air travel markets to airlines enable and promote maximum economic activity at an intra-regional, continental and inter-continental level
Nomad Africa: What targets have you set for yourself?
Aaron Munetsi: AASA has a very important strategic and collaborative role to play in the post-pandemic rebuilding of SADC’s economies. By participating in processes that review and revise policies and regulations, AASA will ensure that the industry will be part of this social and economic reconstruction solution.
Nomad Africa: Explain some of the challenges of the South African / African aviation industry that you hope to tackle?
Aaron Munetsi: I think that the overall challenge that the continent is struggling with is implementing open skies. The African Union’s 2018 adoption of the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) signaled a renewed commitment to open up Africa’s skies to African airlines. To date, 35 countries have signed up but requires fresh impetus. Once SAATM’s implementation gains momentum the broad economic benefits of open skies will become apparent.
Nomad Africa: What kind of support would you like to receive from industry stakeholders?
Aaron Munetsi: AASA strives to make it easy for its airline members to succeed in making their businesses sustainable. We are working very closely with our members to ensure that we align our focus on the key objectives that include but are not limited to the following:
- Participation in AASA industry initiatives
- Data sharing
- Collaboration with AASA in engagements with regulatory authorities
- Industry cooperation on common issues – when our member airlines pull together the entire industry benefits
Nomad Africa: How would like to be remembered after leaving AASA?
Aaron Munetsi: I will do my best and offer my best to the AASA members. I am not keen on fame at all, whatever the epitaph reads is what the industry will think of me and that is alright with me. Suffice to say that I will do my best to serve AASA.
Nomad Africa: Working for professional bodies can be challenging, as there are complex issues to navigate and solve, especially with the ecosystem of public, private and other players? How has it been with AASA?
Aaron Munetsi: It is those challenges that make it rewarding to be at AASA. We are a small but dedicated team. No two days are the same, the multitude of challenges that we deal with require that we maintain a laser focus on the objectives set out in our plans. Volatility brings with it uncertainty and complexities that need us to be ambidextrous and agile in our responses.
Nomad Africa: How do you see the future of AASA in the next 5 – 10 years?
Aaron Munetsi: AASA has proved beyond doubt that it is capable of rising to the challenges our industry faces at any given time. AASA will remain relevant as the voice and advocate of the industry for years to come.
Nomad Africa: Any other message you would like to say to the aviation industry?
Aaron Munetsi: My message to the industry is that we must continue to collaborate and work towards our mutual objectives. We have demonstrated time and again that no challenge is too big to surmount when we cooperate. It has been said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, let us make full use of the current situation and give ourselves the opportunity to come out on the other side stronger and more united than ever before.