A senior Training Captain informs me that an African airline to which he consults no longer wants to employ pilots produced by South African flight schools.
This Training Captain reckons that the South African Commercial Pilot syllabus has lost its way and that pilots are not being trained to fly, so much as to navigate through a box ticking exercise of complying with unrealistic and irrelevant training standards.
This appears to be yet another example of how South African aviation is being held back by poor governance.
A case in point is as I discussed in a WUCAA article last year, the South African Instrument Rating (IROPS), which has become extremely difficult to obtain – causing many aspiring professional pilots to complete their training in the USA or elsewhere in Africa. The flight schools now admit that they have had to revert to teaching their students to pass exams by learning to answer past papers, rather than teaching them to actually understand the intricacies of flying. Those who do not manage to pass the IROPS exam effectively become professional pilots who, without an instrument rating, are not qualified to fly in instrument conditions.
It is hard not to blame the regulator for damaging the flight training industry. A few years ago South African trained pilots were in demand worldwide, but now the African airlines have moved ahead of South African flight schools.
Writing in response to the tragic loss of flight EK302, Tewolde GebreMariam, the Group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines says that in less than a decade, Ethiopian Airlines has tripled the size of its fleet – they now have 113 Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier aircraft flying to 119 international destinations in five continents. They have one of the youngest fleets in the industry; the average fleet age is five years while the industry average is 12 years. Ethiopian has tripled its passenger volume, now flying more than 11 million passengers annually. This is a growth story where South African flight schools are largely missing out.
Each year Ethiopian’s Aviation Academy trains more than 2,000 pilots, flight attendants and other employees for Ethiopian Airlines as well as several other African airlines. In the past five years GebreMariam says his airline has invested more than half a Billion dollars in training.
Ethiopia has successfully implemented a ‘whole-of-state aviation policy’ that supports its national airline and the aviation industry as a whole. And this is good for the general aviation industry. In contrast, South Africa is being left behind, hamstrung by poor governance and a fragmented and dysfunctional regulatory environment.
South African Airways used to be the undisputed champion of African airlines. It is now a lowly third. If South African training is not to continue to fall behind its African competitors, we need a regulator that is less adversarial and more constructive in its dealings with its industry.
The calls for an ombudsman to rein in the excesses of the regulator are becoming more strident.