Federal Air is one of the most multi-faceted aviation companies in South Africa. They specialise both in flying guests to the most beautiful and remote parts of Africa and taking corporate groups out to some of the continent’s most remote mining locations. How do they do it all? Brad Dickson, Commercial Manager for Federal Air explains why it takes a special recipe of outstanding performance, efficient service and treating every customer like a VIP.


Federal Air innovated the service of doing guest shuttles out to some of Africa’s most stunning five star bush lodges in the 90’s and have since partnered with world leaders in luxury safari experiences as part of their commitment to raise the bar in charter aviation. As a result they have become renowned for delivering a unique and seamless travel experience unparalleled in the market.


There are three aspects to Federal Air’s offering. They offer shuttle services to premium lodges including the Kruger National Park and private game reserves such as Sabi Sand, Timbavati, Madikwe and Phinda. They recently added a local route to their offering with a route to Ulundi linking it with Johannesburg, Durban and Pietermaritzburg. “We are still developing the market in the region,” says Brad Dickson, Commercial Manager for Federal Air. “A daily schedule is not available yet but we are excited to open a route for which there were previously no services.” Their charter services complete the Federal Air offering. For this they service corporate clients, group bookings and the tourism market to unlimited destinations.


“This offering is made possible through flexible yet thorough business practices combined with detailed attention to logistics and making the most of the various aircraft in the stable,” says Dickson. “On charter we can do two people in a Barron and can go all the way to Boeing 737 charters. In this way we are a complete solution as opposed to the typical airplane solutions. Going forward we are looking to grow our corporate client base as it is not as ring fenced as the leisure side. The demand in the leisure market is capped according to the capacity and peak seasons of the various lodges but the corporate market doesn’t have these limitations, so we are looking to grow and expand this area of the business.”


Growth is a realistic possibility for a company that takes its client service as seriously as Federal Air does. “Personalised service is everything to us,” says Dickson. “When you deal with high LSM clientele like we do, heading to the cream of the crop in terms of lodges we fly them to, you have to treat every client like a VIP. It’s all built on trust. Our clients want both peace of mind and value for money and we seek to deliver this every time. Your name is all you have and you cannot afford to put that in jeopardy – especially in the airline industry. There are a lot of competitors out there.”


Federal Air is well equipped to deal with the existing competition in the market. They have many unique features to offer their clients starting with the fact that they are based at OR Tambo while other charter companies are located at less central locations. They also have their own lounge with direct airside access – unique in the sense that is an outdoor lounge. Both the interior and outside garden are designed to look like a game lodge with all the same 5 star amenities that you would expect from a lodge. From a fully serviced bar, showering facilities and a boutique gift shop to coffee making facilities, complimentary food and comfortable lounging areas – making guests feel as though their holiday has already started. According to Dickson this is just another example of how they are willing to go out of their way for their clients. “No one else in the market offers a lounge ambience like this. Even though it would be cheaper for us to operate from the terminal building, we choose not to compromise on giving our clients this kind of treatment.”


The treatment does not stop there. All guests travelling on Federal Air’s shuttle services enjoy the full range of VIP treatment starting with their friendly meet and greet service, complimentary excess luggage storage facility, and free internet access at the lounge. And if you thought it stopped there – think again. Every passenger also has the added benefit of their internationally recognised safety and quality management systems, professionally trained flight crews, complimentary guest parking at their lounge, and waiting facilities at OR Tambo to name but a few. They also offer a guarantee on onward flight connections for guests who book their flights within Federal Air’s minimum connection time parameters – they are the only operator offering this guarantee. And at the end of this list, tack on the fact that their flights are direct to the lodges which cuts out any expensive – and time consuming – road transfers and you have aviation services like no other.


“Being based outside of the main terminal is also great for our staff. As a small company, every employee has more than one role to play – around half of the upper management are pilots right up to Evan Baillie, the CEO,” says Dickson. Everyone playing different roles also means that potential clients get a personalised service like no other. “I might sign a deal and end up flying the clients personally putting a guarantee on our service that other companies would find hard to beat.” This has a huge appeal for corporate clients especially when you consider that a lot of the smaller aircraft that Federal Air uses do not have cabin attendants so the face that clients see and deal with is oftentimes the pilots themselves. The pilot assists the guests in handling the baggage and giving them information on the company, the route and the flight. For this reason Federal Air puts a lot of energy into finding good quality people to come on board – so to speak – and keep this multi-faceted personalised service profile alive.


Most companies lay out their mission and vision and place emphasis on bringing these into the day to day operations of business. Federal Air is a bit different. Their core business values and objectives are a direct translation of what they do every day. Their service levels and the way in which they do business are conducted in a manner that merits being listed on their website – not the other way around. “This includes practices such as putting the customer first and making sure that everything you do is in the customer’s interests,” Dickson explains. “I would even go so far as to say that we sometimes make decisions that are not best for the business but work for the customer and in so doing we get a lot of return business. This is why the lodges that we fly to trust and use us time and again to fly their guests out.”


“We really want every guest to walk away from their interaction with us just feeling happy. In fact if the guest completely forgets their flight experience that’s ok with us because it means that they were satisfied with it and felt comfortable enough after the flight to just carry on with their holiday. We are just the enablement service. These clients did not come all this way for the flight after all. They came for an experience at Ulusaba or Singita. We have to make sure that our part in this is a positive influence on the overall experience.”


Part of this overall service, as with any other aviation operation, is a strong safety track record. “Federal Air has been operating for going on twenty years in very challenging environments. We fly into bush runways that are not fenced with lots of wildlife around, potholes and stones on the runway are an everyday reality for us. And we have done it without major incident now for almost twenty years. From a safety stand point that speaks for itself. This proves that the safety standards that we have in place work,” Dickson confirms.


This kind of safety record is sure to give them an edge on the competition – but according to Dickson, this is not the only area in which they have an edge. “In the charter sector it comes down to reputation and location – being located at OR Tambo gives us an edge on our competitors located at the peripheral airports. In terms of getting bookings it comes down to a combination of factors from price to the kind of aircraft you offer and reliability.” Dickson says that personal relationships also play a role as does how quickly you are able to provide a solution to the customer. “This will often win you a lot of business and this is what makes us unique compared to our competitors.”


Corporate clients needing big groups brought in from different locations, needing breakaways in between and who may be moving on to the a second and third location need a company who has the intelligence, the knowhow, the network and the experience to stitch the whole picture together. Dickson explains: “It should be as easy as them giving us the numbers and locations and us taking care of the rest. Overall though we believe that competition is healthy and we believe in our product. If you are offering the right combination of price, service and always being on time, the business will come to you regardless of price as a factor.”