Kimberley – It has been recognised by the international aviation community that there will be an anticipated shortage of skilled aviation professionals in the near future, according to Deputy Minister of Transport Lydia Sindisiwe Chikunga.

She was the keynote speaker at the celebration of International Civil Aviation Day in Kimberley on Sunday.

The main aim of the International Civil Aviation Day is to raise awareness of the importance of international civil aviation and the role that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) plays in international air transport.

Furthermore, this day was established as a way to secure international cooperation and uniformity in civil aviation matters.

In order to address the important issue of skills shortages Icao launched the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP) initiative to ensure that enough qualified and competent aviation professionals are available to operate, manage and maintain the future international air transport system.

“The aviation industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. It has been reported that by 2030 air traffic volume would increase by 50%. At the moment, the aviation industry is dominated by a generation of individuals over the age of 40,” said Chikunga.

“It is estimated that by 2017 more than 40% of the industry professionals will be 55 years of age or older. Considering the anticipated growth and the numbers of professionals that will be retired, there will be an obvious lack of adequately qualified and competent professionals required to effectively run the industry.”

In the next 20 years, airlines will have to add:

– 25 000 aircraft to the current 17 000 strong commercial fleet;

– By 2026 the world will need about 480 000 additional technicians to maintain these aircraft, and

– Over 350 000 pilots to fly them.

“It is not a surprise, therefore, that as part of the 70th anniversary of the Chicago Convention and in parallel to the second Icao NAGP symposium currently underway in Montreal Canada, the first ever Model Council will be conducted,” said Chikunga.

The Model Council participants will discuss action required to support and promote the NAGP priorities, locally, regionally and globally, including all aspects of the projected shortages for skilled aviation workers and leaders and related challenges in terms of global and regional personnel training capacity and personnel retentions.

The council is intended to engage selected university students and young professionals in considering and developing strategies to support access in their states or regions for training and other resources sufficient enough to permit them to be legible for aviation professions.

“I am proud to announce that South Africa is also represented in this Model Council by two young African ladies, who are working as inspectors in the area of air safety infrastructure and aircraft safety at the SA Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa),” she said.

“In fact, analysts believe the aviation sub-sector can bring more than it is currently doing if it can overcome some challenges currently afflicting it, one of which is a debilitating skills shortage and the slow pace of transformation in general.”

Transformation and skills development

Historically the air transport industry has in every fifteen years doubled in size and to date the industry has been able to meet the demands of resourcing this steady expansion.

The forecasted growth, however, will present a significantly larger resourcing challenge for the industry. Compounding this problem is that the aviation industry is now competing to attract qualified and skilled personnel with many other interesting and rewarding professions.

“Government is keenly aware of these challenges and is continuously engaging the aviation industry and it has set in motion initiatives including the annual Aviation Transformation Letsema with a view to generating practical sustainable solutions,” said Chikunga.

“Amongst others, this is geared towards ensuring that South Africa remains a competitive player in the global arena as safety, security, efficiency and regularity of air navigation and harmonious progress of international civil aviation rely on the continuous training of aviation personnel.”

The black economic empowerment codes have been updated to enable institutions like the Sacaa to demand BBBEE compliance from their certificate holders.

“In fact this decision will be implemented in the next few months and the Sacaa is taking the lead in addressing this new requirement as part of the development of the National Aviation Transformation Strategy. This is a milestone for the transformation of the civil aviation industry in this country,” said Chikunga.

“The efforts of the Joint Aviation Awareness Programme continue to register progress as the number of learners reached through this programme grows each year.”

Annually the Joint Aviation Awareness Program sees over 30 000 learners in over 200 schools throughout all nine provinces in the country.

“What we do need however, is a follow through strategy such as funding,” she said.

“It is not enough for us just to plant a seed of awareness, we have a duty to make sure that the learners whose interest we sparked through such initiatives are supported with funding in order for them to carry through their dreams of being aviators.”

She said since its inception in October 1998, the Sacaa has issued over 30 000 civil aviation personnel licenses. Of this number, less than 8% of the skills belong to African, Indian and coloureds, who represent the cockpit and engineering crews.

“This means more than 92% of these critical skills still belong to our white counterparts. I therefore challenge the aviation industry to increase this figure by atleast 5% annually,” she said.

Bursary scheme

At the beginning of Sacaa launched a bursary scheme in line with the government’s Strategic Infrastructure Programme (SIPs) on skills development.

They will be offering 11 bursaries for technicians in the fields of aircraft avionics, aircraft structure and aircraft mechanics and they will be recruiting two pilot cadets. There is also a drive towards the recruitment and training of women air traffic controllers.

“I am optimistic that we can build a sound and sustainable African and South African aviation industry. But for us to attain this we must have the right skills and expertise in the aviation industry,” said Chikunga.

“I believe we are facing a great moment in the industry’s development. There are some good examples emerging across Africa of governments that understand aviation’s potential to contribute to development and are making the investments needed to achieve it.”

She admitted that the way ahead will be challenging.

“But if industry and government work together as partners with a common purpose and strong vision for economic development fueled by aviation connectivity, I am confident that we will achieve great advances as an industry,” she said.