A quick succession of events on Wednesday evening concluded with Tiger Airways Australia managing director Crawford Rix resigning effective the end of the month after a year on the job.
Hours earlier the Civil Aviation Safety Authority announced its intention to apply to the Federal Court to extend Tiger’s grounding from this Friday until 1 August. Tiger subsequently said it would not protest the extension.
Over the weekend, when Tiger was grounded, parent company Tiger Holdings dispatched chief executive Tony Davis to Australia and had a vice-president from stakeholder Singapore Airlines take over Davis’s responsibilities in Singapore.
This personnel shuffle could appear to be the answer to any management qualms CASA has, but it must be asked if it changes anything.
Since Tiger’s inception senior management has been described by sources familiar with the matter akin to being an old boy’s club revolving around Davis, raising questions about Davis’s future, or at least competence, at the carrier.
From the get-go Tiger was secretive, saying it did not want to release basic figures and information for fear of giving competition a leg-up. Tiger Australia’s directors toed the line and embraced Davis’s low-cost mantra.
First was Chris Ward, who met Davis at bmibaby, which Davis co-launched. Ward helped Davis establish Tiger and became the managing director of its Singaporean division before setting up the Australian subsidiary. Ward handed the Australian reigns over to Shelley Roberts in mid-2008 and went on to establish subsidiaries in South Korea and the Philippines. The former never took off while the latter has come under regulatory problems. There were no known safety matters, though.
Roberts, formerly of easyJet and Macquarie Airports, broke the old boy’s club physically but not mentally. In a 2009 address to the Australia Pacific Aviation Outlook Summit, she gained notoriety for saying every strategic element the company was planning would be revealed “imminently”, despite some airlines electing to make announcements at such forums. But not for Tiger. It was all about when was best for the market and giving competitors as little advantage as possible.
When an attendee asked her how imminently “imminently” was, she responded: “imminently”. She practiced what she preached, saying in an interview she would attend attend a stakeholder meeting in America by flying economy class (V Australia, if you were wondering).
Roberts quit in 2010, a decision sources believe was hers, saying she over-worked herself while rapidly expanding the carrier.
Crawford Rix, the managing director of Davis’s bmibaby, replaced Roberts and was hooked on the low-cost model, as he explained while commenting why Tiger objected to Air New Zealand and Virgin Blue’s proposed joint-venture.
Why do you think competitors do codeshares? Do you think it’s good for the consumer? I know what I think. I come from an alliance background. I was in Star Alliance. I’m a full-service guy turned low-cost. I know what the answer is.
He also embraced the Davis-style secrecy around Tiger. When asked how many members its Stripes early-sales club had, Rix responded: “Oh not yet. Oh no, no no, I wouldn’t do that.”
CASA’s grounding of Tiger shows that while the carrier may have been good at maintaining a low-cost basis, it failed to have an adequate level of safety. Despite suggestions otherwise, cost and safety do not have to be mutually exclusive.
It should be asked how much independence regional management had from cost-driven Davis rather than portraying them as simply aloof and incompetent. Davis’s protests of there being no safety concerns is not a vote of confidence.