Airlink’s reinvention earns chief executive Rodger Foster prestigious global awardAccepting the 2023 Airline Strategy Award for Africa & Middle East, Airlink CEO & Managing Director, Rodger Foster, paid tribute to the passion, tenacity, creativity, adaptability, agility, loyalty and resilience” of Airlink’s staff and management. Over the past three years they had re-imagined and established Airlink as an independent airline with an entirely new network. This year Airlink will operate over 75,000 flights serving 45 destinations across Southern Africa, East Africa, Madagascar and St Helena Island from its hubs at Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Photo: Leo Johnson, FlightGlobal.
Rodger Foster, the trailblazing airline executive and founder of South African carrier Airlink,, is the winner of the 2023 FlightGlobal – Korn Ferry Airline Strategy Award for the Africa and the Middle East. The prestigious award was presented to Foster July 16, at a ceremony in London, graced by more than 250 airline industry’s executive leaders from around the world.
Pegasus Airlines chief executive Güliz Öztürk, also received the Executive Leadership award for Europe at the Airline Strategy Awards event organised by FlightGlobal’s Airline Business in partnership with the human-capital solutions provider Korn Ferry.
“Thank you for this award, which I am very proud to accept on behalf of all 2,300 of us who constitute Airlink and the many thousands of people at our service providers, suppliers’ lessors, and partners’,” Foster said in his acceptance speech.
Foster also shared with the audience Airlink’s history, which until early 2020, operated as a franchise carrier for South African Airways, saying, “a combination of events, exacerbated by COVID with its lockdown and multiple travel bans, created the opportunity for us to re-purpose our business and step into the sun on our own terms as an independent, premier airline.”
Like the mythical phoenix, the carrier emerged from near disaster when in early 2020, a combination of Covid-19 pandemic disruptions and a debt default by its former franchise partner, sent it deep into red territory. Incredibly, the employer of 2300 staff did not lay off a single worker throughout this turbulent episode.
Speaking about the crisis, Foster said “for Airlink the pandemic couldn’t have arrived at a worse time as it followed immediately after a massive debt default that decimated our balance sheet and left us cashless. However, the Airlink team showed true grit and determination and mustered what it took.”
Foster added that while this was “the most painfully difficult black swan series that I have experienced in my 31 years at the helm of Airlink, I wish to acknowledge Airlink’s staff and shareholders for sharing in the pain individually, unanimously and collectively, and thank them all for their dedication and commitment.
“This incredible collective didn’t waste these good crises, we recognised and capitalised on the opportunity,” Foster said.
Airlink bounced back from the crisis stronger and now operates to 45 destinations spanning Southern Africa, East Africa, Madagascar and St Helena Island. It has inked 34 commercial airline partnerships, including 5 code-shares, with some of the world’s prominent long-haul carriers that operate to and from its hubs at Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Additionally, South Africa’s largest carrier has now invested in FlyNamibia as a franchisee.
“The numbers tell our story best. We now operate a fleet of over 60 Embraer Regional Jets and we offer more than 75,000 flights annually. We are extremely proud to lead our industry with on time performance that consistently exceeds 95pc as measured by Airports Company of South Africa,” Foster said describing the award as a wonderful acknowledgement of the “passion, tenacity, creativity, adaptability, agility, loyalty and resilience of everyone at Airlink who I am privileged to lead and represent here this evening.”