#AfriTravel: Youth the future of African airlines

2017-10-14 10:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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Cape Town - Airlines Association of South Africa's (AASA) CEO believes that the African aviation industry needs to put more focus on developing their human capital in order to remain viable in the future.

At the AASA's Annual General Assembly on Friday, AASA's CEO Chris Zweingenthal gave a state of the industry address, highlighting the need to develop youth to become the future of aviation in Africa.

"According to all industry forecasts, demand for air transport to, from and within Africa will double over the same period, underpinning a requirement for over 1 000 new airliners in the African fleet over the same period, with a need to source around 20 000 pilots and even more other engineering and technical specialists to operate and maintain these aircraft," says Zweingenthal.

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Africa at a loss

According to him, African aviation faces many challenges to its growth, including African governments' inaction to facilitate a change in market access, high operating costs, safety and security issues, access to revenue blocked by governments hoarding forex reserves and lack of action to mitigate and reduce aviation's contribution to global warming.

Although IATA has forecast a US$31 billion net profit for the entire global industry in 2017, Zweingenthal says that it's predicted that African airlines will return losses of roughly US$800 million. South African carriers will incur a loss of US$100 million and the greater SADC region will incur a combined US$350 million loss.

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Human capital is key to boosting the industry, especially developing new skilled talent within Africa, improve airlines' ability to attract said skilled people and retain their talent as well as transfer skills from retirees to new blood.

"There can be no doubt we need new and additional skilled people." 

Zweingenthal points to key factors in growing the industry's professionals, with basic and tertiary education forming a big component. STEM subjects's quality and access need to be improved and there's a need for aviation focused degrees in tertiary education.

Need for pilots and transformation

African airlines also have to recruit outside the continent to transfer skills as well as stem an exodus of aviation professionals, and the areas where there's a severe lack of critical skills include executive and management, forecasters, schedulers, aviation engineers and technicians and ultimately pilots.

It costs roughly R1,75 million to advance a pilot from initial training to a full Airline Transport Pilots Licence qualification.

"In South Africa, the transformation of the pilot group and inclusion of more black and female pilots is an area where airlines have long been criticized. Progress is being made, but the rate of change has not been as high or as fast as one would like."  

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Critical factors to speeding this process up include funding for pilot development, more cadet schools and programmes and making an aviation career more appealing in order to diversify the demographic.

According to Zweingenthal, it would be more cost-effective if there's more coordination between airlines in term of training initiatives, and if they are willing AASA could help coordinate these partnerships.

"We have many challenges to navigate. However, in one area we have not always paid sufficient attention, and this is to our most important resource – our people.  It’s time to change tack if we want to avoid running aground."

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