What has business been like for Safari Aviation since fleets were grounded? Have you seen an uptake in maintenance business?
Just like all others in the industry, we had our share of problems to deal with. With flights almost coming to a complete halt, topped with the movement restrictions and other measures put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19, we experienced a period when we literally had no sales. No flights, no maintenance, no spares provisioning, nothing at all. I think everyone was just in shock and trying to digest what was happening.
All payments froze and no one was willing to part with their cash as no one knew what was going to happen and where this was heading. Gradually things started to ease and a few ad-hoc flights operated. Cargo operations started to increase and operators began evaluating plans for using their ground time to perform scheduled maintenance. But then it was time to deal with the logistical nightmare. Vessels kept changing or even cancelling sailing schedules, couriers became so unreliable and finding space on freighters was next to impossible. Covid-19 had become the perfect excuse for everyone to cover their inefficiencies rather than looking at things objectively and taking the initiative to resolve the issues. We had shipments stuck all over the world and were all hands-on-deck trying to get them moving.
We are beginning to see improvements and whilst we are still way down on spares provisioning for the passenger aircraft we have seen an increase in demand by cargo operators followed by a slight increase from the MROs. We seem to be heading the right way and things are beginning to look promising.
What is Safari’s key message to customers currently weathering the industry crisis?
This global pandemic might have created a shift in the way we do business and has presented us with many challenges whether it be financial, logistical or humanitarian; but what it should not change is our determination to strive for being the best at what we do. We have had a bumpy ride in the past few months and will probably have some more to come, but hopefully the worst is over and I am sure that together we will get through this. Henry Ford once said: “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the aeroplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
How is Safari supporting its customers?
Customer support has always been one of our strengths, even before the pandemic. Our procedures focus on two main factors. Firstly insuring that parts which we supply meet the stringent quality standards mandated in the aviation industry while providing the most cost-effective solution. And secondly providing a seamless experience to our customers. Extended credit terms is the most significant change that we have made to enhance our customer support even further.
Why does it pay for airlines to use local parts suppliers?
There are many benefits to using a local reliable supplier – and by reliable I mean suppliers that meet the industry’s quality requirements – not the shady brokers who have set up shop in their living rooms.
When using a reliable local supplier, your quality team can visit and audit your local supplier to ensure that they meet the quality requirements which they are supposed to adhere to. Also, when you use a local supplier with readily available stock, you can in most cases get your part the same day and don’t have to worry about where your shipment is going to miss its connection flight or when it is going to be off-loaded. You don’t have to wait many hours for a response from your supplier to be able to submit your report to the decision-makers in your organisation. And if somehow you have ordered the wrong part or if you have to send something back for warranty, you don’t have to worry about huge freight costs to return the item to your supplier.
Freight cost is a major factor in provisioning of spares and is always a topic of conversation when we meet existing or potential customers. A buyer might be happy that he or she has found the item slightly cheaper than what the local supplier has offered it for, but unfortunately what they often don’t realise is that by the time they have shipped the item and paid for the freight, it would end up costing the airline even more. Imagine you need to buy five tyres, each weighing 130kg. What would be your landed cost after you have added your freight cost to it? Your other alternative would be to invest 10 times more than you need to and buy 50 of them to justify shipping them by sea and save on freight cost and even then, you will have to wait another four to six weeks to receive them.
How is Safari adapting its business in the face of the Covid-19 crisis? Have you had to make any operational changes?
On the human factor front, I could confidently say that we were amongst the first to take precautionary measures to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Luckily our director of quality takes such issues very seriously and issued a QAL (Quality Advisory Letter) to our team on 16 February wherein he had laid out detailed procedures on how to deal with the crisis. All staff were provided with the necessary PPE(s) and hand sanitiser dispensers were placed at every desk, entrance and exit. All meetings were cancelled and admission to our premises was restricted to delivery and collection of shipments only. We then implemented a work-from-home scheme for everyone who could perform their duties from home and split our receiving and despatch team members into two teams who alternated on weekly basis. Staff transportation was also limited to three people per vehicle. I am delighted to say that we have not had any cases reported in any of our team members.
On the planning front, we have re-shaped all our operational planning around our most valuable asset, which is our team. Every change and every decision we have made to get through this crisis, has the safety and well-being of our team members at heart. We have not laid off any team members, nor have we implemented any pay-cuts and we are taking every measure in order not to do so. Instead, we have taken other initiatives to reduce our overheads.
We have terminated the lease on our second warehouse, which was used to cope with the overflow of stock and have adjusted our orders and tyre production plans with the factories by reducing the numbers on the passenger aircraft tyres and increasing quantities on cargo aircraft and business jets to maintain adequate stock for the increased utilisation of these aircraft. It is a delicate balance that we have had to achieve as we must also maintain adequate quantities of passenger aircraft tyres in order to cope with the surge in requirements when it eventually does return.
How do you envisage the parts provision sector to evolve post-Covid?
There is no doubt that it is going to take a while for things to get back to near normal parameters. My best guess is that we should start seeing some improvement by mid-July, but it will probably be second to third quarter of 2021 before we start seeing any significant growth in the volumes. Cargo sector is expected to continue to do better than usual for at least another year until the passenger operation is back to normality. I also expect to see an increase in the business jet and private charter operations, which is what our expansion is going to be focused on. We will also continue to assess new partnerships and new markets as we have always done, but now more closely than before.