South Africa’s First Female-Owned Airline Goes International
South Africa-based Fly Blue Crane, the first airline started by a black woman, is about to launch its first international flight less than a year after the airline’s September inauguration.
The airline will begin flying May 13 between Cape Town and Windhoek. Fares will be around $103 one way. Until now, flights were offered internally in South Africa between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Kimberley and Bloemfontein, News24 reported.
In 2015, Fly Blue Crane applied for rights to operate flights to Swaziland and Mozambique, according to FlightGlobal.
Sizakele Mzimela is the co-founder, CEO and majority shareholder of Fly Blue Crane.
A former CEO of South African Airways, Mzimela was the first woman named on the board of the International Air Transport Association in its 71-year history. The association represents 117 countries, and its member airlines account for 83 percent of air traffic.
Fly Blue Crane is backed by Pretoria-based aviation consultancy, Blue Crane Aviation. Directors include Mzimela (holding a 70 percent stake in the airline), General Manager Theunis Potgieter (with a 20 percent stake) and former SAA Head of Revenue Planning Jerome Simelane (with a 10 percent stake), according to the CentreforAviation.
Mzimela is a veteran and pioneer in African aviation with 20 years of experience in executive leadership roles, according to a RunwaygirlNetwork interview.
In addition to being the former CEO of South African Airways and regional SA Express, she was chairwoman of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and the Airlines Association of Africa (AASA).
Her trajectory in aviation began with her first job as an analyst at SAA. After that, Mzimela kept getting promoted, managing multiple different divisions including the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.
“The biggest joke is that I wasn’t able to stay in one position for 12 months,” Mzimela said in an interview with RunwaygirlNetwork. “I looked after alliances.”
Among Mzimela’s many firsts was being SAA’s first black executive vice president, initially for global operations on the airport side, then for commercial sales. She left SAA to become head of SA Express, returned to SAA as CEO, then left to start her own airline.
Her biggest achievement at SAA
“I was one of the first CEOs to build a proper relationship with SAA’s pilot union and cabin crew. We got everyone on the same page,” Mzimela said.
She accomplished this, she said, by being honest and accessible. “The first thing I did was do road shows to introduce myself to the various parts of the business and say what things should be happening.
“There were some workers who said it was the first time in history that they had ever seen the CEO. For me, I thought it was the thing you do. You show your face and let people know who you are and what you’re about before asking them what you need to do.”
Advice to female aviators
“You have to accept up front that your road will be more difficult than the pale white male sitting next to you,” Mzimela said. “You will have to always be better than them…they will only ignore you up to a point. People may not like your color or your agenda when they say they want the best person for the job.
“You can stand up and say ‘I am the best person for the job’. Understand that we just have to work harder. It’s unfair, but you spend less time complaining and more time finding a way to move on and break through regardless of the difficulties. Be mentally prepared that climbing that mountain will be different. I’m prepared to climb to the top. It’s your job to say ‘Nothing will stop me. I’m going to make it,’ because it doesn’t look like, I’m sad to say, that things will change any time soon.”