Only 4% of the 17 000 pilot’s licences in South Africa are held by blacks, an anomaly the country’s Civil Aviation Authority is trying to remedy.
Its CEO, Poppy Khoza, said that in terms of the requirements of the country, an additional 6 200 pilots had to be trained by 2021. The aviation authority had now taken it upon itself to ensure that a sizable number of black aviation professionals were among those being trained.
The authority is spending R3.4 million to fund 27 black trainees who are being taken through the different disciplines of the aviation industry.
Eight are studying to become pilots and five will become aeronautical engineers. The rest are studying to become aircraft mechanics, while others will work in avionics.
“The bursaries are to ensure the acceleration of transformation in the aviation industry and that South Africans are aware of the vast opportunities in the aviation field,” said Khoza.
“It may be fashionable to say the word ‘transformation’, but there is not much action on the ground. There is a lot of resistance towards transformation.”
The figures make for depressing reading. Of the 17 252 pilot’s licences in the country, only 241 are held by African women. Only one African woman has a helicopter Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (the highest form of licence for flying a helicopter) and only seven hold a fixed-wing Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (the highest for someone flying a plane).
Khoza said pessimists had been expecting the worst when she was appointed the first black, female head of the authority.
“There’s a myth that seeks to suggest ‘if you bring in transformation, standards will be affected’. Nothing has changed. In fact, there have been some improvements. Today, South Africa is rated among the best globally in terms of aviation safety and security,” she added.
“We have not had a single, scheduled commercial aircraft incident, as we strive to uphold aviation security and safety standards. Our standards compare very well with the UK and the US, and transformation will not affect this at all.”
Khoza said her organisation was working towards opening up the aviation sector for anyone with the required abilities.
But she said the astronomical cost of training aviation professionals was a key barrier to entry.
“It is not cheap to become a pilot,” she said.
A private pilot’s licence to fly a helicopter can cost about R210 000. A private licence to fly a fixed-wing aircraft costs about R100 000. Those who want to fly commercially face steeper costs. Training for a commercial helicopter licence can cost up to R585 000, while a fixed-wing aircraft commercial pilot’s licence costs R280 000.
“The training may not be expensive, but the actual flying is taxing because a learner has to hire an aircraft for about R6 000 an hour and carry other costs such as fuel and maintenance, as well as paying an instructor,” said Khoza.
She said she was frustrated that the fees charged by flying academies were not regulated – which made them almost impossible to standardise.
“We need to ask if it really takes R100 000 to get a flying licence, or are those fees set?” she asked.
Khoza suggested that government-owned or -funded training institutions could be established to allow for the more affordable training of prospective pilots.
“Together with relevant departments, we are beginning to say that it may be time for us to have an academy that will consolidate all these aviation courses under one umbrella.
“We need dedicated institutions to offer aviation training courses,” said Khoza.