Former Air New Zealand boss Rob Fyfe is catching up with old friends at the global meeting of aviation leaders in South Africa but he's not looking for a job in the industry.
Fyfe, who left the airline at the end of last year, said there had been offers but if he wanted to work for an airline he would have stayed with the national carrier.
He is in Cape Town for the International Air Transport Association's annual meeting, working as a consultant for Panasonic inflight entertainment systems, the world's biggest supplier to airlines.
Since leaving Air New Zealand he has walked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, taken a holiday in Bolivia, gone to the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in Long Beach, California, which he said left him bubbling with ideas, and worked on the boards of Trilogy, Icebreaker and Antarctica NZ.
"I'm pretty actively involved in all those businesses, probably doing a little more than what an average board member would do because I've got a little more time on my hands," he said.
Fyfe said the past six months had not been about discovering more of himself.
"I've always had a clear sense of who I am as a person. This hasn't been a voyage of discovery in that regard, it's more about the next decade and what do I want to spend my time doing."
Fyfe headed Air New Zealand for seven years and misses some aspects of being at the top of an airline, although not all of it.
"You put your heart and soul into the business but at the same time it's relentless and I'm enjoying some space and time to enjoy life and pursue some personal interests."
But he's not in a hurry to make his next move. The 52-year-old said he had been spending the past six months not thinking about what job to do, but what criteria that job needed to meet.
He said it needed to be in New Zealand and hoped it would be a business that could be taken on to the world stage to emulate the performance of Air New Zealand that had demonstrated it was possible to embrace the New Zealand identity and perform at a world-class level.
"I want to find another business or industry where I can do the same thing, not necessarily a big corporate - it's not about size or scale. I'm very open minded, but it won't be in the aviation industry."
He said he was getting pitched ideas often and was not lacking in options.
"I'm starting to get a feel of the criteria but I'm not going to think seriously about it until the last quarter of this year."
He said he watched Air New Zealand closely under the leadership of Christopher Luxon.
"I'm not on the payroll any more but I feel passionately involved with the airline, I think it's travelling really well. One of the most important tests for a CEO is that the movement to your successor is effectively painless and you don't lose any momentum."
•Grant Bradley travelled to Cape Town courtesy of South African Airways and Air NZ.
Airlines fight to double profits
Airlines are on course to lift profit this year to US$12.7 billion, almost double that of last year but margins remain wafer-thin.
The International Air Transport Association yesterday released its global outlook for the industry at its meeting in Cape Town. The figure is based on US$711 billion ($892 billion) in revenues and the association's director-general and chief executive Tony Tyler said margins remained weak, at about 1.8 per cent.
"This is a very tough business. The day-to-day challenges of keeping revenues ahead of costs remain monumental. Many airlines are struggling," Tyler said. "On average airlines will earn about US$4 for every passenger carried - less than the cost of a sandwich in most places."
Despite low margins 2013 is on track to be the third strongest since 2001. He said in the past eight years airlines had used their aircraft more efficiently - the load factor was expected to average a record high of 80.3 per cent this year - 6 percentage points above 2006 levels.
Airlines have also found new ways of adding charges for services such as bags and food that have increased the contribution of ancillary revenues from 0.5 per cent in 2007 to more than 5 per cent this year.
Tyler said the outlook for global economic growth had fallen since March as the recession in Europe was deeper than expected.