New Fiji Airways chief executive Stefan Pichler has worked his way around the world after catching the travel bug when he was a professional marathon runner.

The 56-year-old German national team runner flew around the world competing for the best part of a decade before studying and moving into the airline sector, first for Lufthansa, then Virgin in Australia and most recently Kuwait's Jazeera Airways.

Fiji Airways has over the past year gone through a big rebranding phase - dropping the Air Pacific brand - and Pichler said it was now time to deliver on the aspiration.

"Fiji is a global brand. We have to deliver to the aspiration, good on-time performance and a consistent product," he said. "The company has been very busy with itself with the branding but now we have to change the course to put the customer in the spotlight."
The airline was on track for making around around a F$14 million ($9 million) operating profit in the year to the end of March 2014, as it makes the transition from its three fuel-hungry Boeing 747s to three new Airbus A330s by November.

It was working on a five-year plan, and although he could not discuss any new routes, it would "expand the network in a reasonable way", Pichler said.


Fiji, where 38 per cent of GDP is driven from tourism, was facing competition from Asian countries and needed to position itself as a niche destination besides the mass market.

Pichler grew up in Munich where, "in winter you had snow which was beautiful and then you had Oktoberfest which was even better".

He got a job with Nike in Oregon then studied for a masters in economics and law before working in executive roles for airlines and Thomas Cook.

He was asked by Virgin founder Richard Branson to work in Australia and set up the airline's long haul operation, V Australia.

In 2010 he was recruited to run Jazeera Airways in Kuwait where he was able to lift its profitability using a standardised fleet of 40 to 50 Airbus A320s before making the move to Fiji.