SA aviation leader honoured with lifetime award

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Airlines Association of Southern African CEO Chris Zweigenthal was honoured with the 2019 Ato Girma Wake Lifetime Award in recognition of his contribution to the air transport industry.

The award was presented to Zweigenthal at the AviaDev Africa 2019 aviation development conference in Cape Town on Friday.

Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA), which was established 49 years ago, represents airlines in the countries of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), in liaison with governments, legislators, regulators, infrastructure and service providers on matters of common interest to its members.

Zweigenthal has led the association for the past 10 years, prior to which he was its deputy CEO. A civil engineer by profession, he began his airline career in 1988 with South African Airways (SAA).

"I have a passion for the aviation industry. You cannot get it out of your blood once you are in it," he said when receiving the award.

According to Zweigenthal, among the challenges the aviation industry is facing, is that the majority of airlines are struggling for survival. "I would like to suggest that there probably is a lack of vision and a lack of strategic intent from a state as well as airline perspective," he said.

"Airlines and the state need to collectively develop a strategy to get rid of the lack of alignment."

Another challenge to address, is to enable and resolve the free movement of air passengers in Africa.

Asked what keeps airlines from working together, Zweigenthal said, there might be an element of "jealousy" among airlines regarding successes reached by others.

"There could be a feeling of wanting to do it all on their own, when you actually need partnerships to succeed in the industry," he said.

"Airlines in Africa are more ready to engage with international airlines and put partnerships together with them, than they are willing to partner with other African airlines."

Zweigenthal would like to see African airlines deal with issues of high taxes and charges, while maintaining a focus on safety, security, skills development and technology.

Asked about his views on the forecast that about 60% of pilots and engineers in the aviation industry are expected to retire over the next fives years or so, Zweigenthal said it is important to expose young people at grassroots level to aviation in order to nurture an interest in the industry and an awareness of opportunities that exist for them.

"There is a gap. Older folks are going into retirement while the younger ones still need to gain experience to ensure they will not fail. Luckily there are many good mentoring programmes in Africa addressing this issue," he said.

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