The travel industry has welcomed SAA’s latest top executive appointment, which will see seasoned aviation professional, Simon Newton-Smith, taking up the role of interim executive: commercial.
Simon is well-known in South Africa, having spent three years as country manager for Virgin Atlantic in South Africa. He also served as the Barsa chair during his time in the country.
“I am thrilled to be joining SAA as it begins a new chapter in South African aviation history. This is a carrier with a rich and envied pedigree the world over and I, along with the executive team, will work tirelessly in our efforts to welcome back passengers, grow revenue and deliver profits,” said Simon.
Educated in Britain, Simon first joined Virgin Atlantic in 1996, where he served in sales and marketing positions in various international markets. In 2000 he was appointed vp sales for SAA’s North American market where he led the airline’s US sales, group sales, pricing and sales support teams to grow revenues in the US, Canada and Mexico.
Simon then returned to Virgin Atlantic in 2004 as vp sales for North America and continued with Virgin until 2018 when he became senior vp commercial strategy for Qatar Airways in Doha. In 2020, he founded a new venture in Atlanta called aervolution, with the aim of connecting experienced leaders and aviation change champions to create, validate and launch new business models that challenged the industry status quo.
He will join SAA’s new executive team, comprising interim ceo, Thomas Kgokolo; interim executive: operations, Sakhile Reiling; interim chief financial officer, Fikile Mhlontlo; and interim executive human resources, Mpho Letlape.
Industry weighs in
“In the past, many of SAA’s top executives have either not had any aviation experience or any experience working in the South African aviation industry. We are encouraged to hear of Simon’s appointment, as he not only has an in-depth understanding of the South African market but also has extensive knowledge of the aviation industry,” commented ceo of XL Travel Group, Marco Ciocchetti.
Ceo of Asata, Otto de Vries, said: “Simon has always been very level headed and certainly has more than sufficient knowledge, expertise and experience to fulfil his mandate for the new SAA.”
Previous Air Mauritius regional manager for Africa and Latin America, and herself a veteran of SAA, Carla da Silva, told Travel News that, as Barsa’s vice-chair, she had worked closely with Simon during the time that he served as the organisation’s chair, ultimately taking over from him in the position of chair.
“I have the utmost respect and regard for Simon who is a man of integrity, focused, objective and results-orientated,” said Carla. “I spent many years working for SAA and I truly believe that, with the right people in place, there is a lot of potential for SAA to grow. The aviation industry is a service industry with people and relationships at its core and, as such, SAA needs to adopt a consumer and trade-focused approach if it is to succeed. I believe that Simon understands this. The South African travel trade have always been huge supporters of SAA despite all its challenges, and if SAA is able to align its strategy with the trade I believe it will have success,” added Carla.
Ceo of Tourvest Travel Services, Morné du Preez, said Simon was not only an extremely likeable person who was well respected in the industry, with a strong understanding of the South African market, but that he also brought invaluable and extensive first-world aviation experience to his new role.
“The question we are all asking is how much will the government interfere with the new SAA? Will Simon, who has all the right attributes for the role, be allowed to get on with things and do his job without interference?”