Johannesburg - Transformation is important in advancing the wishes of general society, but South Africa is still a long way from achieving real transformation in the domestic aviation sector.
In the last few months I have been to a number of seminars and committee meetings of the domestic aviation industry. I can say that I have been further exposed to the inside – out of the real world of the domestic aviation industry. I can safely conclude that the local aviation industry needs a thorough mop-up for real change to take shape.
While there is no doubt that South Africa needs to achieve a revolution across all economic sectors, I have seen how a few organisations are working to stabilise or grow the domestic aviation market. However, these organisations are not receiving the necessary support from other aviation industry players or individuals.
What I see is that some influential aviation players are missing the point, with only a handful of individuals working purposefully to unite the domestic market. There are also those that are working hard, but are afraid to speak out in fear of upsetting established players in the market.
South Africa’s domestic aviation industry requires bonding of the different social backgrounds in the market through effective and robust transformation processes. Many are talking across various platforms, but they are talking in different languages, and there is misunderstanding and, therefore, slow progress towards meaningful transformation.
A rough and bumpy ride so far
So far the road to transformation in South Africa has been extremely bumpy and tough. It has left scores of casualties along the way - casualties that would have made a huge difference had they been included in meaningful economic activities.
Like in other economic areas, certain institutions of power in aviation are paying lip service to transformation. Interestingly, they are aware of what needs to be done, but they are not keen to see change being implemented. They view transformation in the sector as something that will disturb their pillars of power. It is not that they are not aware of the benefits - they are reluctant to see inclusive processes at play as they want to maintain the status quo.
Many who have the ability and quality to be the vanguard of transformation are afraid to speak up against the establishment that enjoys power and vast resources. This approach slows economic progress, causing the economy to struggle to support transformation efforts being spearheaded by a few who have taken it upon themselves to ensure South Africans of all social backgrounds enjoy the fruits of democracy.
The future of South Africa lies in having one agenda of transformation in a time when it seems all the gains of the struggle are getting lost through social exclusion and economic imbalances.
It has also dawned on me that the government must also start to make smaller airlines part of the bigger picture as they have the capacity to grow and provide employment. Government must also allow such airlines to participate in transport portfolio committees in parliament.
Start–up airlines complement the national carrier's role through adding dynamism and freshness to air travel.
Enough room for all players to make a profit
Established aviation players must not fear stiff competition from smaller players. It is healthy for competitive environments to prevail in any industry. With a transparent aviation space, there is room for everyone to operate, not only without fear or favour, but comfortably and profitably.
There is also the need for the voice of newcomer budget airlines to be accommodated in the decision making processes of the domestic aviation industry. At the moment it seems private low cost carriers are not being listened to in terms of their concerns. Authorities leave them exposed to the various challenges that curtail their operations.
Difficulties faced by smaller airlines are totally different from those faced by larger airline operations, an aspect authorities seem unaware of or choose to ignore. It is vital to give smaller airline industry players a chance to grow, as they can complement and impact positively on the entire travel industry. Smaller airlines have the scope to create jobs, nurture young blood and provide a much faster skills transfer in aviation.
Inclusion of all – low cost carriers and premium airlines - breeds healthy competition and choices, which will always favour the consumer.
Ignoring the above could see South Africa’s domestic aviation industry experiencing continued turbulence. This is the time to work as a group rather than as individuals. Let’s have a united voice towards transformation.
All peers in the domestic aviation industry must leave behind their differences and focus on the mission to further grow and build the renowned South African aviation industry brand. The future looks bright as a united force.
* Airports Company SA (Acsa) suspended Skywise flights on December 2 2015 due to unpaid airport and related service charges. Acsa maintains all its decisions and actions have been taken in the company's best commercial interests, while ensuring the sustainability of SA’s aviation industry. In January 2016 the Competition Commission decided not to refer a Skywise complaint against Acsa to the Competition Tribunal.