With the increased consumer spending and a new middle class on the rise, Africa's long-term economic growth rate is expected to maintain an average of 4.4% a year, which is well above the world’s average. Accordingly, the rising investments and the improving climate of trade foster the demand for air travel to and from the region. Unfortunately, Africa has suffered a history of high airline failure rates, poor infrastructure and an accident rate that is 8 times the global average. Therefore, a major challenge facing the continent now, among others, is the lack of sustainable levels of the requisite, skilled workforce at all levels, which is necessary to overcome should the continent have any chance in steering the course of the industry.
Aviation is considered a vital ingredient in the economic development in Africa: the industry creates 6.7 million jobs and $6.8B for the continent’s GDP. However, while Airbus expects the African passenger market to double in the upcoming 20 years’ time, some analysts believe that the sector can bring more than that if it manages to overcome a number of factors undermining its development, one of the most important ones being air safety.
According to the senior vice president for Safety, Operations and Infrastructure at the IATA, the continent is doing quite well with regard to improving air safety. The regions with the most prominent achievements in the area for the last few years include sub-Saharan Africa with 61%, followed by the Middle East and North Africa with 25% less accidents. Nevertheless, last year nearly half of the fatalities on the Western-built jets occurred in Africa. Thus, no wonder that African carriers dominate the European Union’s blacklist, and in spite of the marked improvements the region has made so far, no African airline has ever been removed from the list.
“Despite the positive developments and potential, African aviation still remains an area for concern. Like it or not, its safety record is still eight times worse than enjoyed by any other of the five continents in the world. Of course, there are a lot of factors to blame for such a performance, including limited technology, poor policing, cumbersome airport fees and taxes on jet fuel (which are about 20% higher than elsewhere on the globe), poor infrastructure and the lack of political will,” comments Kestutis Volungevicius, the Head of FL Technics Training. “Nevertheless, first things first, the region has to address the shortage of skilled labour, which is a serious obstacle for achieving improvements in both short and long term perspectives.”
The aviation sector in Africa has been suffering from the lack of adequately trained pilots and technical staff for quite some time now. In December 2013 the acting Rector of International Aviation College projected that in the upcoming 10 years indigenous manpower in the African aviation industry would account for less than 20% of staff needed. As many specialists in the area are in their 50s and older, the replacement of the personnel in the region is very time pressing. This calls for urgent and highly concerted training programmes.
Naturally, global standards are the foundation upon which a safe, secure and integrated global air transport system is built and the current situation with regard to safety in the West is the prime example of what can be achieved with a consistent, global approach. Thus, the ICAO is already addressing the manpower issue through its capacity by building efforts aimed at establishing the Association of African Aviation Training Organization. The organization is expected to ensure the standardization and harmonization of training and relevant requirements in Africa. However, the experts believe that the pressing issues require engagement from all of the industry players.
“With the new aircraft on the way to the rapidly expanding local fleets, the region will have to source capital to invest in the new tooling, equipment, systems and training required to undertake MRO on the new aircraft and engines. Such African airlines as Kenya Airways, Egypt Air, Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways can positively influence the industry’s performance and development through technical programmes and technical partnerships with state authorities and other carriers. If Africa focuses on achieving safe, sustainable, reliable and efficient air travel by keeping global standards at the heart of its efforts, the continent’s potential in aviation can at last become a reality,” concludes the Head of FL Technics Training.