Local aviation legend Chris Zweigenthal to retire, still sees 'lots of work to be done'

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AASA CEO Chris Zweigenthal (left) doing what he does best - building bridges for the southern African aviation industry.
AASA CEO Chris Zweigenthal (left) doing what he does best - building bridges for the southern African aviation industry.
Carin Smith
  • The Airlines Association of Southern Africa represents most of the airlines in the SADC region.
  • After many years in the industry, its CEO Chris Zweigenthal has decided to retire.
  • He reflects on his is experience in the industry and the way ahead.

Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) will retire from the industry body at the end of August this year to relocate to the US to be closer to his children and grandchildren.

AASA represents most of the airlines in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region on matters of common interest. Its members include airport and air navigation service operators, aircraft and engine manufacturers, ground handlers, fuel suppliers and other role players across the air transport value chain. A recruitment process is underway to find a successor to Zweigenthal and ensure a smooth transition.

"Chris is a legend in the southern African air transport industry and is widely regarded for his tenacity, calm diplomacy and energetic work ethic. While we have confronted - and continue to face - serious challenges, the airline industry in southern Africa is deeply indebted to Chris for the constructive engagement and goodwill that he has fostered across the sector, especially with government regulators, policy makers, legislators, and state-run infrastructure service providers throughout the Southern African Development Community. We wish Chris and his family a well-deserved retirement. He will leave big shoes to fill," said AASA chairperson Elmar Conradie. 

Zweigenthal joined AASA in 2002 as deputy CEO was appointed CEO in March 2009. He is a civil engineer who started off "building railways, bridges and roads" at Transnet. In 1988 he got the opportunity to join SAA (then part of Transnet), where he held senior management positions in various sections, including petroleum affairs, flight operations, marketing planning and global passenger services.

Fascinating industry

"The aviation industry is fascinating for me. It is so fast moving in terms of developments. I also had the opportunity to work with so many different types of people and to share experiences. Wherever I represented AASA in the world, industry players were always interested to learn more about our business and our region in southern Africa," he said. "AASA has always looked at implementing global aviation goals where applicable to promote the aviation industry," says Zweigenthal.

"Aviation in SA, the region and on the continent is probably one of the most important enablers of trade, business and tourism. In many parts of Africa road and rail systems are sometimes difficult to get around and easier by air. We still have lots of work to do to develop an integrated network around the continent and with the rest of the world."

He regards aviation, which has also been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, as an economic enabler with the huge potential for creating jobs and developing skills, directly and in related industries.

"The airline industry has demonstrated that even under difficult circumstances it can be resilient and adapt to challenging conditions. There is still room for more engagement, and I would like to see more interaction between government and the private sector in terms of dealing with challenges. My approach has always been to try to find solutions to problems. AASA's mandate is to represent the southern African airline industry and not push personal agendas. AASA's strength lies in harnessing the knowledge of its huge number of partners and associate members to achieve a common goal," said Zweigenthal.

"It was my personal decision to leave AASA. My wife and I have an opportunity to get our close-knit family together again by joining my son in the US. We will still be 'back and forth' between there and SA. I would love to retain some sort of involvement in the industry since I am so passionate about aviation in SA and the SADC. I would be willing to assist in any way I can since there is still lots of work to be done."

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