African aviation authorities and airline executives believe there are two main reasons for the continent’s current shortage of aviation professionals – the lack of of aviation training centres, which means sending students away for training is both cumbersome and costly, and the brain drain.
Shortage of aviation professionals was one of the main topics discussed at the fourth International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) global training and trainer-plus symposium, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from April 11-13.
Ethiopian Airlines hosted the conference, the first of its kind in Africa.
Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam, said that the African continent is suffering from shortage of aviation professionals, particularly pilots, aircraft technicians and engineers.
“It’s mainly because there is not enough training available in the continent, and there are not enough training centres. Migration of skilled manpower to the developed world is also a challenge,” he said.
With a population of more than one billion people and a large landmass, Africa is a huge continent. But the aviation sector is under developed. Africa contributes only 3% to the global air transport industry.
“All of us in Africa are concerned that the aviation sector is not developing as fast as the economic growth in the continent,” added the Ethiopian Airlines Group boss.
African pilots and technicians are migrating to the Middle East in search of better payments. Recently, pilots and technicians from Kenya Airways and South African Airways left in large numbers to join Gulf carriers.
Interestingly, some African airlines, including Ethiopian, hire pilots from other regions –particularly Europe.
African air traffic controllers and radar technicians also migrate to other regions. Colonel Wossenyeleh Hunegnaw, director general of the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, said staff retention is the biggest challenge his authority faces at the moment.
A recent market forecast by Airbus indicates that Africa would need 1,000 commercial jet aircraft and 21,700 new pilots in the coming 20 years, while Boeing estimates that Africa would demand 18,000 new pilots and 22,000 technicians over the same time period.
ICAO secretary general, Fang Liu, said that in the last 10 years air transport has continued to grow, leading to many new airlines entering the market and the highest aircraft orders ever registered. “Over the next 20 years new aircraft will need to be commanded by qualified pilots and maintained by skilled technicians and managed by competent air traffic controllers. But, as we are witnessing a shortfall in training capacity, aviation training gaps could rise in many regions,” he warned.
According to Liu, African aviation will be growing in the coming years along with African economic development. “Air transport is not only a transportation means but also an economic enabler and driver of national and economic development. However, in order to further develop aviation, human capacity is a key. As we know, there is a gap between the number of professionals sought and the training capacity, in particular in Africa.”
Liu, who lauded the establishment of the Association of African Aviation Training Organizations, said ICAO is working hard with African states to further develop aviation training entities. “We want to see how to strengthen aviation subjects in the universities and also promote aviation in existing university programmes.”
She advised African states to properly manage and plan their human resources. “The rapid increase in deployment of new technologies across every major industrial sector has led to tremendous competition globally for qualified professionals, which poses further challenges for aviation,” Liu said.
She said that ICAO and its member states must take account of attrition in all human resource planning. “Cooperation is an important factor in our training capacity solutions for short and long term success. This is a perfect opportunity to increase state-to-state coordination.”
The forum stressed the need to forge collaboration among training centres, partnerships between universities and training organisations, to form regional associations and share resources.
Liu said ICAO had developed the Aviation Safety in Africa (AFI) plan with the view of assisting member states to meet her organisation’s safety standards. “I should emphasise that ICAO can only be effective when governments take ownership and have the political will and commitment to effectively implement our standards,” she added.
Under AFI, African member states have set up targets for effective implementation of ICAO standards called the Abuja safety plan. It means ICAO cooperates with African member states, the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the African Union and the industry.
“ICAO’s team in our African regional offices in Nairobi and Dakar help member states as a first priority in addressing significant safety concerns,” explained Liu, adding that, with projected African traffic growth in the coming years, ICAO encourages member states to proportionally increase investment in financial and human resources to strengthen their safety oversight functions.
“In the coming years safety remains the priority for every state, including African states. Without aviation safety, the air transport development could not be sustained,” said Liu. “It is extremely important that we encourage member states to invest in civil aviation authorities (CAAs) and empower them with appropriate human and financial resources that enable them to undertake proper safety oversight so they can further develop aviation in a safe and secure manner.”
It was agreed that ICAO would coordinate with regional training organisations on the implementation of the AFI plan framework to ensure the relevance of the training offered.
During the course of the conference Liu granted trainer-plus membership certificates to 14 CAAs, aviation universities and training centres. (africanaerospace)