Without skills, SA airlines face calamitous future - AASA CEO

(Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
(Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Margate – African airlines are expected to make a combined $350m (R4.6bn) loss this year – of which about $100m (R1.3bn) is expected to come from South Africa’s airlines, according to Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airline Association of Southern Africa (AASA).

This is while the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is forecasting a $31bn net profit for the entire global aviation industry.

“Competition in the airline industry in Africa is intense and a number of players are increasing their footprint on the continent,” he said at the 47th Annual General Assembly of AASA.

He warned that airlines in Africa will face a potentially crippling shortage of skills and a failure to meet employee transformation targets if governments do not fix basic and tertiary education.

“Without a talent pipeline, airlines and other aviation businesses in our region, specifically South Africa, face a calamitous future,” he said.

Big players

It is estimated that aviation supports 6.8 million direct, indirect and induced jobs in Africa, and generates $72bn for the continent’s combined gross domestic product (GDP).

Zweigenthal pointed out that Africa’s population growth is driving increased demand for air transport across Africa. It is estimated that about 20 000 new pilots and some 20 000 new technicians and engineers, as well as other professionals will be needed.

The aviation industry estimates that it costs about R1.75m to take a pilot from initial training to a full airline transport pilot licence qualification.

The demand for air transport to, from and within Africa is expected to double over the next 20 years, requiring more than 1 000 new aircraft in the combined African fleet.

Zweigenthal said transformation in the aviation industry was non-negotiable and AASA would like to see its pace increased. A challenge AASA identified in this regard was the scarcity of funding – including at university level – and the absence of a specialist aerospace and air transport education institution in Africa.

He also noted a lack of effective coordination between governments, educators and the industry. African airlines also face a challenge of governments on the continent failing to reform market access, he said. 

Then there are high dollar-driven operating cost,s and a need to remain focused on continually improving safety and security performance throughout the continent.

“Funding solutions need to be established and identified for pilots through government, public and private initiatives,” said Zweigenthal.

“Besides stemming the exodus of young blood, we also have to ensure there is a pipeline of talent ready to take over from those people leaving the industry through retirement over the coming years.”

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